Medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer spoke about the 2013–2016 Ebola epidemic after receiving the MacLean Prize at the 29th annual Dorothy J. MacLean Conference on Clinical Medical Ethics on November 10. He focused on his experiences working abroad in clinical deserts—areas lacking health facilities or medical practitioners.
The MacLean Center Prize in Clinical Ethics is the largest monetary prize in the field of medical ethics, and has been awarded annually since 2011. Farmer is the prize’s sixth recipient. He received the award for his prior work as an active researcher and health advocate, and for his effort to bring health care to some of the world’s most impoverished people. The award was $50,000.
Farmer said in his speech that Ebola is a caregiver’s disease, spreading via traditional, day-to-day caregiving methods. It spreads easily in places in Africa where family members are the sole caregivers as opposed to health professionals. He also said that working on these issues in the region is itself challenging, even if international organizations establish temporary camps, because it can be hard to spread the word effectively.
“If you’re in a remote clinical desert in West Africa where it can be hard to get information, a big question that you ask is ‘Do we seek care or do we trust traditional methods,’” Farmer said at the lecture.
He explained that the health impact of Ebola was worsened by a lack of trust among people. “A lot of money is pledged at UN conferences and a lot of them aren’t kept. This lowers people's trust in the health system and international organizations,” Farmer said.
After the speech, Farmer spoke to The Maroon about how students can play a role in improving global health conditions. “First, we should understand that Chicago is also on the globe and that students can look for ways to get involved,” Farmer said.
“Students here were very involved in the campaign for a trauma center at the University because they saw lack of one in South Side as an issue that needed to be addressed…and they were in the end successful in getting the University to build one,” Farmer said.