The Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Prize of $1.5 million, the world's largest prize, has been awarded to Partners In Health, a non-profit organization based in Boston, Massachusetts. The organization was honored for its work in providing "first world" health care to the poorest societies.

 When the Hilton Humanitarian Prize was established 10 years ago, it was worth $1 million. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the award has been increased to $1.5 million.

In presenting this year's prize, Conrad Hilton's grandson, Steven Hilton, describes Partners In Health as a global health movement that works to alleviate human suffering.

"Partners In Health is motivated by its ideals of social justice," he said. "It is out to change the world by challenging the conventional wisdom about fighting poverty and disease."

Partners In Health was founded in 1987. It successfully established its first community-based health project in Cange, a small impoverished settlement in Haiti. Since then, it has expanded its medical services throughout Haiti and to other parts of the world, including Peru, Russia, inner-city Boston, Mexico, Guatemala, and most recently Rwanda. The organization tackles illnesses such as tuberculosis, vaccine-preventable diseases, maternal mortality, malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Co-founder of Partners In Health, Paul Farmer, says the Rwanda project is the result of two years of deliberate and cautious planning. He says much already has been accomplished in the few months since the project's inception.

"We have opened a hospital that was abandoned since the genocide 10 years ago and put some hundreds of patients on anti-retroviral therapy, for example, in the middle of rural Africa," said Mr. Farmer. "We have also, needless to say, focused on whatever it is that ails the people who are coming to this hospital and the clinic sites around. And, that is everything from distress during labor, to malaria, of course to other projects. We do not have any doubt that this project will be a great success."

Co-founder of Partners In Health, Jim Yong Kim, wears two hats. He is now Director of the HIV/AIDS Department at the World Health Organization. He says Partners In Health has had a big impact on UN organizations, specifically WHO.

For example, he says Partners In Health changed WHO's policy regarding drug-resistant tuberculosis.

"The World Health Organization had said, with the backing of almost every development and health agency in the world, that drug resistant TB was too expensive, too difficult and too cost ineffective to treat in poor countries," said Dr. Kim. "When Partners in Health started with this campaign, there were only several hundred patients in the world getting treatment. Now, there are many thousands in 26 countries who are receiving this treatment and are being saved from a virtual death sentence because of the engagement of Partners In Health with the World Health Organization."

Dr. Kim says WHO's program to get three million people living with HIV/AIDS on anti-retroviral treatment by the end of this year is an extension of a program begun by Partners In Health. He says WHO also has adopted the organization's model of community-based approaches to health care.