Gift to Honor Legacy of Global Health Champion Paul Farmer

Cummings Foundation commits $50 million for alliance between HMS, University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda

A line of women and men wearing white lab coats, medical masks, and stethoscopes stand facing three people, including Paul Farmer, sitting on hospital beds.
Paul Farmer teaches students from the University of Global Health Equity at a patient's bedside at Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda. Image: Ferdinand Dukundimana/Butaro Hospital/Partners In Health

A $50 million gift from Woburn, Mass.-based Cummings Foundation will build upon and amplify the work of the late Paul Farmer, a champion of global health.

The gift establishes the Paul Farmer Collaborative of Harvard Medical School and the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Rwanda. It will be divided equally between the two institutions.

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Farmer, a physician and medical anthropologist, was the Kolokotrones University Professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, chancellor of UGHE, and co-founder and chief strategist of PIH, an international health and human rights organization.

He died on Feb. 21, 2022, at the age of 62, while teaching at UGHE, an initiative of PIH.

“During his all-too-brief time here with us, Paul was the vital physical link between Harvard and UGHE,” said Joyce Cummings, who co-founded Cummings Foundation with her husband, suburban Boston real estate magnate Bill Cummings. “In Paul’s absence, it is critical that we act to ensure that this bond and his work endure.”

“This gift will allow us to continue Paul’s transformative work and honor his vision to reshape health care delivery for marginalized populations and to connect HMS with the University of Global Health Equity,” said HMS Dean George Q. Daley. “This gift is a powerful reminder that as a global community, we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us, which Paul understood better than anyone.”

The Paul Farmer Collaborative

The gift is intended to build on Farmer’s legacy and enable researchers at both institutions to deepen their exploration of social medicine, a field focused on the many factors influencing a person’s health, and pursue fundamental questions about social determinants of health and humane caregiving. The overarching goal of the collaborative is to catalyze the development of sustainable, equitable health systems that improve health care delivery to underserved populations.

The program, named in Farmer’s honor, will build on existing multifaceted collaborations between HMS and UGHE.

Cummings Foundation’s gift, to be paid over 10 years, will fund:

  • Independent and collaborative research, teaching, and education at both institutions.
  • Exchange of students, postdoctoral trainees, and faculty between the two institutions.
  • An annual global conference and workshop on health equity, global health delivery, research, education, and social medicine.
  • An endowed Cummings Foundation Professorship of Global Health Equity at HMS to continue advancing Farmer’s ideals and objectives.
  • Clinical training opportunities for medical students and residents, with an initial focus on building surgical capacity and surgical health innovation in low-resource settings. Long-term, the training could expand to include other clinical specialties such as mental health, obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, internal medicine, dermatology, and anesthesiology.

The relationship between HMS and Rwanda has deep roots. In 2005, PIH was asked to help the Rwandan Ministry of Health fight HIV, improve maternal and child health, and bring integrated, high-quality health care to people in the nation’s rural districts.