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Lesson Plan for Facing History and Ourselves: Paul Farmer and Jeffrey Sachs

Lesson Plan by Maggie Elmarakby

Global health is an area of medicine and public health which is continuously attracting more media attention. It appears that with incredible advancements in modern medicine, eradicating epidemics in disease-ridden populations is finally within reach. Doctor Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health and a professor at Harvard University, is a tireless advocate for the poor and the sick. He believes that it is possible to end the cycle of poverty and disease worldwide but warns that the “devil is in the details.”

Jeffrey Sachs is a renowned economist known for his work with developing nations. He is a former director of the United Nations Millennium Development Project. His expertise is in market-based causes for inequalities in healthcare. Both Farmer and Sachs have sharp critiques for the current way in which global healthcare functions.

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Economics and Global Health


In this lesson plan, students will discover how varied approaches to global health—economics in the case of Jeffrey Sachs and medicine in the case of Paul Farmer—still reach some of the same conclusions about these public health challenges. Sachs and Farmer’s perspectives will also provide a forum for a conversation about the basic of global health, issues of poverty, and the myriad advocacy organizations working against poverty and disease.




1-3 class periods, plus optional extensions for research or activities.

  1. Analyze the relationship between a country’s science and technology policies and its level and balance of trade, while explaining the importance of research, development, invention, technology, and entrepreneurship to the world economy.
  2. Describe the relationships between the availability and price of a nation’s resources and its comparative advantage in relation to other nations.
  3. Analyze trends in world demographics as they relate to physical systems.
  4. Explain how processes of spatial change have affected human history, and explain the ability of modern technology to alter geographic features and the impacts of these modifications on human activities.
  5. Describe geographic factors that affect cooperation and conflict among societies, and analyze the relationship between an issue in world environmental history and the related aspects of political, economic, and social history.
  6. Learn and use the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to evaluate the current state of global health problems and to make predictions about the future.
  1. Why does solving issues of global health continue to be challenging for scientists and doctors alike? What types of obstacles might stand in the way of non-governmental agencies working on issues of global health?
  2. Consider the connection between global health and economics. Jeffrey Sachs believes that the global economy is building “bubbles;” that is, certain problems are growing larger and without intervention, they will eventually burst. Should countries or individuals with larger amounts of wealth address these bubbles? What are the implications if they do? If they do not?
  3. Another aspect of the Partners in Health mission is bringing education to communities in which children would not otherwise have access to schools, teachers, or learning. How does educating correlate with the mission of an organization striving to end global health issues? What impact does bringing education to rural populations have on the communities themselves and the larger national or global communities of which they are part?
  1. Students should begin by developing an understanding of the relationship between economics and global health. Have students explore materials and statistics from organizations such as Partners in Health (, the World Health Organization (, and the United Nations ( Ask them to collect the statistics or facts that they find most surprising or discussion-worthy and to share them with the class. Students should have a short discussion about the variety of problems they have researched, which organizations are trying to solve those problems, and their respective approaches.

    After this discussion, have students break into small groups based on their interests. For example, some groups might be interested in HIV/AIDS or malaria or the consequences of scarce clean drinking water. Each small group will be responsible for researching a particular illness or disease and discovering in which part of the world it’s most prevalent. They will put together a comprehensive presentation on the economy of the location, the illness or disease, and how it fits into the UN Millennium goals. This presentation should be presented as if students are a part of a non-governmental organization applying for a grant to travel and work at their specific location. They might also consider creating funding proposals by researching, for example, how great the cost would be for basic medical supplies for a month-long stay.

    When all groups have presented, the class should determine which group should be awarded the “grant” and why.

  2. Poverty issues affect communities around the world. Students should develop an understanding of poverty (as in the first lesson plan). Farmer and Sachs encourage their supporters that action can be taken in regions or areas which many might call “hopeless.” Students should focus on researching what types of organizations exist to combat issues of poverty and illness and also on what small steps these organizations are taking against these issues.

    Students should then view GOOD Magazine’s YouTube video on the UN Millennium Goals ( This video focuses on the expectations of the Goals and how they can be accomplished through collaborative effort.

    Fighting poverty, illiteracy, and healthcare injustice is both a global and local project. Students who are interested should investigate how these problems are affecting a local community. Using statistics or field research, they should compose an editorial to the local newspaper framed as a call to action for community members. Students who are interested in these issues on a larger scale should conduct similar research focused on a specific location and write a similar call to action piece, perhaps one to be posted on a blog or online forum.

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