Mississippi Delta turns to Iranian doctors to solve infant mortality crisis
The Mississippi Delta has some of the worst health statistics in the country, including infant mortality rates for non-whites at Third World levels.
“It’s time to look for a new model,” said Dr Aaron Shirley, one of the state’s leading health campaigners.
“Forty years ago, when I was a resident at Jackson hospital, I was in charge of admitting sick babies and was astonished at all the children coming in from the delta with diarrhoea, meningitis, pneumonia.
“After years of health research and expenditure of millions of dollars, nothing much has changed.”
The idea of looking for solutions in Iran emerged when James Miller, a consultant based in Mississippi, was called in to advise a rural hospital in financial difficulty. He was shocked to find that the state had the third highest medical expenditure per capita, but came last in terms of outcome.
Miller, managing director of Oxford International Development Group, remembered a conference in Europe where Iranian officials had explained how their country had revolutionised its healthcare system.
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 contacted Shirley, who is seen as a community health pioneer in Mississippi and had recently converted a deserted shopping centre in Jackson into a “medical mall” for the poor.
“I thought if the Iranians could do it with a fraction of resources we have, then why shouldn’t we?” said Shirley.
Why not indeed? Say, why didn't Shirley and Miller call in these Dartmouth Study guys, anyhow? I hear they're pretty good.
NOTE Via Sacramento for Democracy.