Monday, February 13, 2012
Book Review: Mountains Beyond Mountains
Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World, is a powerful testimony demonstrating how one person can make a difference in treating global health problems.
Paul Farmer’s greatest love is practicing medicine in Haiti where his emphasis has been the treatment of tuberculosis. He walks miles, often on mountainous trails, to remote villages to see patients who live in small huts with dirt floors and roofs made of banana fronds. Dr. Farmer learned Creole so that he can converse without an interpreter. His clinic, Zannu Lasante, is miles away from where official business is conducted in Port-au-Prince, involving hours on National Highway 3 which sounds traversable, but is actually dangerous and as rough as a riverbed.
Dr. Farmer, an American medical anthropologist and physician, didn’t have a typical childhood. His large family lived in non-traditional environments, but Paul thrived and used those experiences as stepping stones to his later life. In medical school he found his calling to cure infectious diseases and to bring lifesaving tools of modern medicine to places that needed them most, primarily among the poor and disadvantaged. In 1983, while in medical school he cofounded Partners in Health, an international non-profit organization that provides direct health care services and undertakes research and advocacy activities on behalf of those who are sick and living n poverty. He holds a professorship at Harvard and is Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
In order to advance international health, he frequently travels to Peru where high incidence of TB prevails. He learned Spanish to heighten his effectiveness there. He regularly goes to Russia and visits prisons where TB is rampant. Dr. Farmer’s main focus is eradicating pandemic diseases primarily TB and MDR (multi-drug resistant)TB, HIV, AIDS, and the prevention and treatment of malaria. In addition, he accepts invitations to speak world-wide, always with the idea of furthering education and soliciting donations to fund these efforts. He has written books and dozens of medical journal articles.
Author Tracy Kidder, a Pultzer Prize winner for his nonfiction narrative, The Soul of a New Machine, accompanied Dr. Farmer over a period of years, even trekking with him to remote villages. In one case they walked for a total of eleven hours in order to visit one TB-affected family. Kidder calls the act the “Farmer method.” First you cure a patient and then you change the condition that made them especially vulnerable to TB in the first place. In this case, the plan would be to get the large family into a home with a cement floor and a metal roof, improve the family’s nutrition, and provide school tuition for the kids.
It’s hard to imagine one man doing all that Paul Farmer has accomplished. Kidder has done an outstanding job of letting us peek into the soul of this inspiring complex man with a passion so great he has truly affected world health and enriched mankind. I highly recommend Mountains Beyond Mountains.