“If you set sights high and you stick with it, you can make real progress.” Dr. Paul Farmer
Dr. Paul Farmer is a medical anthropologist and physician. He is a founding director of Partners in Health (PIH), 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 in poverty. He is also a professor at Harvard University and a UN Special Envoy to Haiti, among his other numerous awards and accomplishments.
I watched an interview with Dr. Farmer recently and was struck with similarities between his work in public health and the approach that is needed to end drowning.
Here are some of the key characteristics of Partners in Health that we must apply to drowning prevention and water safety if we are going to end the global epidemic:
- Community-based strategies to deliver high-quality solutions in resource-poor settings: programs like SwimSafe and the creche program piloted in Bangladesh are critical to addressing the issue in areas where the need is of epidemic proportions. The full copy of the UNICEF report can be downloaded here.
- Anthropological approach to understanding the issues: the creche program looked specifically at why young children were drowning and addressed the underlying issues. Making the safer behavior and situation more desirable than the status quo is key to lasting, internalized behavioral change.
- Train locals to deliver services: involve the stakeholders early and get community buy-in with people who hold influence. Remember, those with influence might not be those in power.
- Commitment to the idea that all people have the right to basic services: explore the role of social inequalities as a contributing factor but do not let social inequality excuse unequal results.
- Develop global partnerships and high-profile support: think creatively and use global resources. Dr. Farmer deserves every award he has received, but more importantly, it raises the profile of the organization and the issue and opens the stream of funding - $50 million a year - that is necessary to maintain the organization and provide services.
- Creative use of resources: PIH identified existing generic drugs and approached countries in India to produce the drugs at 1% of the cost. The result? Financially viable drug treatment and an increase in drug manufacturing jobs in India.
- Tenacity: there is no quick fix, but it can be done.