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Blood Disorders Know No Boundaries

December 12, 2021
Elizabeth Brem, MD

Dr. Elizabeth Brem (@DrLizBrem) is an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Medicine, at University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. She specializes in lymphomas (B- and T-cell, Hodgkin lymphoma), chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and multiple myeloma. She attended medical school at SUNY Buffalo in her hometown of Buffalo, New York, and did her residency and fellowship at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School in Boston. She currently lives in Huntington Beach, California. Dr. Brem is a prolific ASH volunteer. Prior to joining ASH News Daily, she served as an associate editor for ASH Clinical News and has also been a member of the ASH Trainee Council and Committee on Communications. She looks forward to her next adventure in 2022 as a member of the ASH Publications Committee. In addition to a wealth of knowledge about ASH, Dr. Brem contributes some deep-rooted journalistic chops. “In high school, I wrote for the kid’s section of the local paper, The Buffalo News,” she shared. “I still have a ‘Reporters Notebook’ that they gave me! 

The “Blood and Beyond” series at the ASH annual meeting is a special session that aims to show the intersection between the humanities and hematology, creating the chance to tell a unique story. Blood editors select a unique speaker whose work interconnects with hematology and is also a part of a larger cultural narrative. Previous speakers have often been book authors, such as Lawrence Hill, author of Blood: The Stuff of Life; Douglass Starr, author of Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce; and Tom Brokaw, well-known news anchor, author, and multiple myeloma survivor. 

This year, Blood Editor-in-Chief Dr. Nancy Berliner has invited a friend and colleague who will bring a new perspective to the conversation. Dr. Paul Farmer has devoted his life to improving care for underserved populations across the globe. Dr. Farmer is the Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Chief of Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In addition to his MD from HMS, Dr. Farmer holds a PhD in Medical Anthropology. In 1987, he co-founded Partners in Health (PIH) whose mission is to “provide a preferential option for the poor in health care.” 

“By establishing long-term relationships with sister organizations based in impoverished settings,” said Dr. Farmer, “Partners In Health strives to achieve two overarching goals: to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair.” Currently, PIH serves 11 countries where it builds health systems in communities using a method referred to as the “5 Ss,” which stands for staff, stuff (tools and resources), (physical) space, systems, and social support. Dr. Farmer noted that PIH works “often in rural areas but always among the underserved.” Currently PIH’s largest efforts are in Haiti and Rwanda. 

Dr. Farmer will speak on Irrigating the Clinical Desert: Clinical and Laboratory Services and Medical Emergencies.” Dr. Farmer noted that, It’s a real privilege to be invited to address ASH, as several of its members have helped us to achieve progress in the clinical and lab arenas.” Dr. Farmer added that while PIH’s work in some areas may be more focused, it can be applied more broadly. For example, working specifically to reduce the spread of and improve care for AIDS, resources “can be deployed in a way that allows for a stronger safety net for other illness and injury, and that includes blood dyscrasias and malignancies,” he said. 

Much of this year’s annual meeting content has centered around the theme of equity, and Dr. Farmer’s presentation will build on this. Dr. Farmer is proud of the work PIH has done to build and sustain basic hematology laboratory capacity and training — key tools that most of us use daily and likely take for granted. “I’m here to focus on getting tried and true tools into the toolkits of my thousands of co-workers laboring in the clinical desert,” said Dr. Farmer. “My excitement is about global health equity, with the accent on equity.”  

Many of us do not have direct experience with global health, and perhaps like me, you are in awe of entities such as PIH and have no idea how to contribute to similar efforts; the idea of global health seems so far away. However, Dr. Farmer hopes to assure us. “Pretty much all hematologists do in fact have relevant experience, since wherever they’re practicing is on the globe, too,” he said. Dr. Farmer noted that most of us in medicine could benefit from more attention to health equity. “Regardless of where we’re practicing, as nurses or doctors or researchers or lab techs,” he stated, “we have a lot to add to discussions of how clinical services might be made more accessible, higher quality, more convenient, and not a threat to the financial and emotional well-being of families across the world … Right now, we live in a world of growing disparities of all sorts, and I think academic medicine has a much bigger role to play in leveling the playing field.” 

Dr. Brem indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.  

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