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December 23, 2009

The Deep South Thanks the Iranian People

The Deep South has found a partner to resolve its healthcare woes: Iran.
A recent Times Online article has discovered how local health officials, consultants, and doctors working in the Mississippi Delta region have partnered with Iranian health officials and strategists to address their financial woes and lacking healthcare system.
The grim reality facing local Delta residents include:

Some of the worst health statistics in the country, including infant mortality rates for non-whites at Third World levels…The southern state has the highest levels of child obesity, hypertension and teenage pregnancy in the US. More than 20% of its people have no health insurance.
James Miller – a consultant based in Mississippi brought in to advise a hospital facing financial difficulty – was shocked when he found out Mississippi had, “the third highest medical expenditure per capita, but came last in terms of outcome.”

When mapping out a strategy to turn around the state’s appalling results, Miller recalled a European health conference where Iranian health officials presented their revolutionary healthcare policy :

Facing shortages of money and trained doctors at the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, the new government launched a system based on community ‘health houses’, each serving about 1,500 people.
Locals were trained as health workers known as behvarz, who would travel their area, dispensing advice about healthy eating, sanitation and contraception as well as monitoring blood pressure and conditions such as diabetes.
It was a stunning success, reducing child mortality rates by 69% and maternal mortality in rural areas from 300 per 100,000 births to 30. There are now 17,000 health houses in Iran, covering more than 90% of its rural population of 23m.

Miller, and a number of other healthcare advocates, embarked on a campaign to incorporate the Iranian “health houses” strategy into the Mississippi system by partnering with Iranian universities and health officials and winning over local residents. While the campaign to incorporate the system may be an uphill battle, its success can have far-reaching implications:

‘The Iranians are a proud people with 5,000 years of history and huge contributions to science and medicine,’ said a State Department official.
‘A project like the Mississippi one is incredibly powerful as it appeals to that Iranian concept of history. It’s a great way to keep the door open between the two countries.’
Paula Gutlove – deputy director of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies – points out similar meetings between American and Soviet scientists in the 1980s helped pave the way for the end of the cold war. “What we did in the 1980s created lasting relationships which cut across the divide,” she said.
‘It’s a win-win project,’ said Dr. Aaron Shirley, a leading health campaigner. ‘Not only do we finally have a way of addressing disparities in Mississippi, but also building relations between peoples.’”

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