Lives of the fellows

Charles Frank Farthing

b.22 April 1953 d.6 April 2014
MB ChB Otago(1976) MRCP(1983) FRACP(1986) MD New York(1993) FACP(1994) FRCP(2013)

Charles Farthing was an AIDS specialist and one of the first physicians to alert the public to the dangers of HIV in the UK. His greatest achievement was probably his influence on the Conservative Government’s response to the early stages of the epidemic. He appeared in the media regularly to warn of the dangers of infection and the stigmatisation of marginalised groups; he was instrumental in encouraging the early adoption of an enlightened approach and the development of tailor-made clinical solutions.

He was born in New Zealand, the son of Jack Raymond Farthing and Ngaire Emily Farthing (née Green). During his early Catholic upbringing, he thought he would be a priest, but he finally decided to study medicine and qualified at Otago University. After junior posts in Christchurch, his wanderlust, which would continue throughout his life, took him first to Riyadh and then to St Stephen’s Hospital, London, where he was a registrar in genitourinary medicine. There, and in a nearby STD clinic looking after deprived groups, he encountered his first patients with Kaposi sarcoma. He became a research worker in the unit, which was to become the largest AIDS clinic in Europe at what is now the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. He made friends with many of the pioneers of the early response to this disease, including Princess Diana and Elton John.

He toyed with the idea of settling in the UK permanently, but was offered a scholarship to New York University, where he eventually became head of their AIDS research unit. He continued to use his media skills to inspire others and at one stage he volunteered to be the first to try a new live HIV vaccine. Luckily, this offer was not accepted as the vaccine was shown to be toxic to pregnant rhesus monkeys shortly after and was abandoned.

In 1994 he moved to the west coast of America to a health provider unit in Los Angeles, where he was responsible for a large, innovative HIV treatment unit. He used his considerable influence to set up similar units in other parts of the developing world where modern medical medicine was able to transform the outlook for many patients.

Charles again became restless and felt that his talents could be best used by ‘big pharma’, which had the money and expertise to transform the treatment of HIV globally. He worked for Merck, Sharp and Dohme as their representative in Asia for several years, but at the time of his sudden and untimely death from a heart attack he was in the process of yet another career move back to the UK, with plans to treat the HIV patients of Brighton and Chelsea.

The abiding memory of Charles will always be of his engaging personality, boundless energy, cheerfulness and sharp mind. He did live to see his greatest dreams fulfilled. At the time he studied medicine virtually all those who contracted HIV died, while at the time of his death one pill once a day allowed millions to live a normal life span. And he also helped to create an environment where it is regarded as immoral that such benefits should not be distributed to marginalised societies across the world.

Charles Farthing was survived by his partner Dougie Chitak Lui.

Brian Gazzard

[BHIVA 9 April 2014 – accessed 29 October 2015; Los Angeles Times 14 April 2014 – accessed 29 October 2015; The Guardian 11 May 2014 – accessed 29 October 2015; The Telegraph 22 May 2014; – accessed 29 October 2015; The Scotsman 28 May 2014 – accessed 29 October 2015; BMJ 2014 348 3287 – accessed 29 October 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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