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Bending the Arc: An Introduction to Partners in Health

Tuesday 15 August, 2017

     “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice".

                                                                                                                            They bent it faster.


This week brings the release of Bending the Arc, which tells the incredible story of non-profit health organisation, Partners in Health. To celebrate, we’re digging a little deeper, by taking a look at the ins and outs of one of the most pioneering and influential organisations working within the field of global health today.

Bending the Arc opens at the DocHouse on Friday 18th August, with co-director Pedro Kos joining us for a Skype Q&A on our opening night. The film will then continue to screen daily - you can find out more and book tickets here.

Who are Partners in Health?


Partners in Health is a non-profit organisation, founded back in 1987 by an extraordinary group of doctors and activists. Its founders include:

Dr. Paul Farmer is chief strategist and co-founder of Partners in Health. He is also the chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. To top it all off, he serves as U.N. Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Community-based Medicine and Lessons from Haiti.

Now president of the World Bank Group, Dr. Jim Yong Kim started his career as a physician and anthropologist. He has served as director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS Department, president of Dartmouth College and held professorships at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. He has received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and has been recognised as one of America’s “25 Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report.

Ophelia Dahl is a British social justice and health care advocate. At only eighteen years of age, Ophelia volunteered at the small Eye Care clinic in Haiti’s impoverished Central Plateau. Here she would go on to meet Paul Farmer and co-found Partners in Health, where she now sits as president and executive director. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and the recipient of the Union Medal by Union Theological Seminary. And yes, she’s also Roald Dahl’s daughter, and manages his literary estate on the side. 

What do they do?


Their work involves setting up hospitals and medical centres in some of the poorest areas of developing countries, stocking them with the same medical supplies that you might find filling the shelves of Harvard Med School. Refusing to bow down to the long-standing rhetoric that some lives are worth less than others, they rip up the rulebook and treat diseases that health experts previously determined could not or should not be treated in poor communities because of expense and difficulty.

Questioning the ways in which we deliver healthcare, they developed a revolutionary community-based model, which consists of hiring and training thousands of health workers, the majority of whom are members of the very communities in which they serve.  

Partners in Health is no quick-fix charity either – they remain an active presence within the communities they support, committed to providing a long-term health service.

Where do they work?


Partners in Health began in the Central Plateau of Haiti, where they opened a small clinic in the village of Cange over thirty years ago. It was called Zanmi Lasante – which literally translates as “Partners in Health” in Haitian Creole – and is now their flagship project. Following its expansion, it now ranks as the largest non-governmental health care provider in the country, employing some 5,700 Haitians whilst serving an area of 4.5 million.

Moving outwards from Haiti, they then began work in Peru, before moving onwards to Rwanda. During this time, they managed to avert a deadly MDR-TB epidemic before taking on AIDS, becoming the first doctors in the world to treat AIDS patients in rural settings with full-courses of anti-retrovirals. They were also on the ground in Rwanda at the time of the Ebola outbreak.

They now have over 17,000 workers, working with ten different governments across the globe.

Why did they form?


Partners in Health isn’t just a charity, it’s a movement. And it’s a movement with a clear goal – to transform global health, one patient at a time.

They believe that access to health care is, and should be recognised as, a human right. In a world with so much medical resource, they felt it to be morally inexcusable that many continued to die from diseases that could be so easily treated. No matter how poor the people, how remote the place, or how deadly the disease, they believe that we are all entitled to quality health care.

How can I get involved?


Good question. If you’d like to get involved, then there are numerous ways that you could go about doing so. Their website offers some great ways in which you can donate, be it monthly payments, supplies and equipment, or even your old banger.

Or fancy getting involved with something a little closer to home? There are plenty of charities working out of the UK and achieving great things in the same vein as Partners in Health – take Doctors Without Borders (MSF), for example. They’re a humanitarian organisation that provides emergency medical aid to conflict zones as well as areas affected by natural disasters and epidemics.

MSF offer plenty of ways to get stuck in – from fundraising to volunteering, and everything in between. And if you’re a student, then there are now over thirty ‘Friends of MSF’ societies in universities across the UK, doing some great work. To find out if your university has an MSF society (or to set one up yourself), head here.

So what are you waiting for? Why not get out there – donate, fundraise, bake a cake, run a marathon, shout about it in the streets – and join the movement today.