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Los Angeles Times Examines How Miss. Delta Region Hopes To Learn From Iran’s Rural Health Care

The Los Angeles Times reports on how health workers in the Mississippi Delta region of the U.S. are hoping to mimic Iran’s success in reducing infant mortality by recreating the country’s low-cost rural healthcare delivery system in their own backyard. “Mississippi ranks at or near the bottom of most healthcare indexes. … The state suffers the nation’s worst infant mortality rate – about 50% higher than the national average – and the lowest life expectancy,” the newspaper writes.

In contrast, Iran’s “17,000 health houses, essentially rural medical outposts staffed by community health workers,” have been credited with slashing the number of infant deaths by 70 percent over the past three decades, according to the WHO. The article features Aaron Shirley, a pediatrician who works in the Mississippi Delta, and traveled to Iran last May to see the health houses in action.

“Iran and healthcare are politically toxic topics in Washington these days. But Shirley and a colleague are to go to Capitol Hill today to seek funding to open an Iranian-style ‘health house’ in Baptist Town, an impoverished neighborhood on the edge of Greenwood, and in 14 other Delta communities,” the newspaper writes. “The proposed Mississippi version calls for training nurses’ aides in each community, and then sending them door to door to help with basic needs, such as taking blood pressure and improving sanitation. The health workers would refer patients to clinics or hospitals for more advanced care and follow up with home visits.”

The newspaper continues, “Over the years, the federal government has poured tens of millions of dollars into primary healthcare research and delivery programs in the Delta, but the effect has been limited. … Shirley’s group is seeking $30 million in federal funds for a three-year pilot project and has lined up support from Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who represents the area.”

The article describes the willingness for the Iranian doctors to assist the U.S. doctors, the political challenges associated with backing a program with “anything tied to Iran,” and the “quiet support” both the U.S. and Iranian governments have given to the “little-known initiative in the Delta” (Drogin, 1/25).