For more than twenty years, Ophelia Dahl has worked tirelessly as a social justice and health care advocate for the poor. On March 24, the Benjamin Rush Scholars at William & Mary Law School announced that they will recognize her contributions to the health field by awarding her the 2009 Benjamin Rush Medal. The medal will be presented to Dahl in April.
Dahl is the President and Executive Director of Partners in Health (PIH), a non-profit organization based in Boston. Formally founded in 1987, PIH is dedicated to addressing health inequities and social injustice.
Dahl began her work as an eighteen-year-old volunteer in impoverished central Haiti, and has since dedicated her life to advocating for social justice and healthcare equity. In Haiti, she met Paul Farmer, the founder of PIH, and since then they have worked to bring health care to the destitute and the sick, beginning with a few small villages in Haiti's Central Plateau. The principle that motivated Dahl and her colleagues was simple: everyone, whether poor or affluent, deserves to benefit from the same high standard of medical care.
Expanding on the work started in Haiti's Central Plateau, she has traveled to and supported the establishment of major PIH projects in Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Russia, the urban United States, Rwanda, and most recently, Lesotho. Today, PIH has a staff of 47 at its Boston headquarters and thousands of colleagues in programs that span four continents.
Under Dahl's leadership, PIH has forged groundbreaking successes in treating the diseases of the poor and promoting health and human rights in areas of the world that have been ravaged by political conflict, poverty, and international neglect. Today, the effectiveness of PIH's community-based model has been lauded around the world, prompting an explosion in requests to the organization to share its expertise and to play a greater role in global health advocacy.
A graduate of Wellesley College, Dahl also serves on the board of her family's foundation to honor the work of her father, the late writer Roald Dahl, and is engaged in philanthropic works in the United States and her native England.
The Benjamin Rush Medal honors Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), a physician, medical professor, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Rush founded the first clinic in the United States devoted to medical care of the poor, wrote one of the most influential books on psychiatry of his day, and was an outspoken social reformer.
The medal is presented annually by William & Mary Law School's Benjamin Rush Scholars, a select group of law students who have distinguished themselves by their research and writing in health law and policy. This year's scholars are Mairead Blue '10, Matthew Mikula '10, Jeffrey Palmore '09, Michael Smith '09, Emily Uhre '09, and Mairead Blue '10.