Paul Farmer delivered the keynote address for the national FACE AIDS conference Saturday evening in Memorial Auditorium.
In his speech, Farmer addressed how youth can effect positive changes to combat the AIDS epidemic.
Farmer is a professor at Harvard Medical School and a founder of Partners in Health (PIH), a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to providing quality health care to villagers suffering in remote areas of Haiti, Rwanda, Peru and about 10 other countries.
Stanford students founded FACE AIDS, a youth movement to fight HIV and AIDS, in 2005. They have since expanded to include over 210 chapters at colleges and high schools across the country. FACE AIDS also partners with students in Rwanda who work to address community-based health issues.
Farmer said he has “reverence for the things that can happen at age 22 or 23,” because he began his work in the Haitian village of Cange at that age. It was this work that led him to found PIH.
“It is important to have imagination to see that things that can be different, and I think generally youth have that kind of imagination,” he said.
Farmer also stated that the current establishment is often closed-minded toward new ideas and possibilities concerning AIDS prevention and treatment.
“Too often, they see it as an either-or situation,” he said. “We can either do prevention or provide care.”
PIH, he stated, strives to provide both prevention and treatment to patients suffering from AIDS.
“It is not rocket science to build and rebuild hospitals,” he said.
However, he said PIH has discovered that there is a definite link between curing the sick and developing infrastructure and the training of hospital employees.
Throughout his speech, Farmer praised the work of student groups like FACE AIDS. Not only do they raise valuable funds for AIDS research and patient care–FACE AIDS has raised a total of $2.3 million so far–but they raise awareness for the disease and its effects, he said.
Oct. 13 to Oct. 16 marked FACE AIDS’ national conference. Students from around the country came to Stanford’s campus for ideas on how to improve their chapters’ effects in their community.
Farmer had many positive things to say about the state of the AIDS epidemic worldwide. The cost of one year of treatment used to be about $10,000; today, it is available for between $60 and $80. Additionally, both mother-to-child transmissions and new infection rates are falling across Africa.
Rwanda especially has made what Farmer calls “astounding achievements” in addressing AIDS treatment. The proportion of AIDS patients receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) has increased from virtually nothing to one of the highest levels in Africa.
To FACE AIDS leaders, this news was very exciting.
“I came out of the conference energized and excited to hear that what we do has had a marked effect,” said conference attendee and University of Texas senior Kundan Verma.
Verma said that Farmer also inspired him to lobby his members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
“This isn’t a political issue; this is a global issue,” he said.
Stanford students had similar positive reactions. Stephanie Navarro ’15 said that she loved Farmer’s speaking style and that she didn’t expect him to be so funny. It also inspired her to look into joining FACE AIDS or another AIDS awareness group on campus.
“Student groups like FACE AIDS are particularly inspiring,” Farmer said. “You don’t share the risks, you’re not going to die of cholera, but you still help…the jump from empathy and sympathy to solidarity is most moving when you have nothing in common.”