Your Health ;
; Mississippi looks to Iran’s health care system.
; That model has improved health dramatically.
; Will it travel well to Baptist Town?
Baptist Town, with its
shacks on the wrong side
of the tracks in Greenwood, Miss., seems an
unlikely spot for any kind
of revolution, especially
one inspired by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
But soon, that Mississippi neighborhood and
others like it in the Deep South may see some
While political leaders in the United States
and Iran are practicing boisterous brinkmanship over nuclear proliferation, a small
group of health care professionals from
both countries are quietly working
together to practice a new type of
medicine, beginning in Mississippi, a
state that has been mired at the bottom
of nearly every health index for decades.
Their primary focus is the storied Mississippi
Delta. The flat, hot, rural landscape that gave
birth to the blues—the quintessential American
art form that put suffering to song—now suffers
a host of health woes, with some of the highest rates of diabetes, obesity, hypertension and
infant mortality in the nation.
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent
IRANIAN MODEL A mother and child
visit a “health house” in their village for
a regular checkup by a health worker.
over the last decade to improve residents’ health
there, the disparities between the Delta and the
rest of the state have only widened.
“I’ve been in and out of the Delta for 40 years
and nothing much has changed,” says Aaron
Shirley, a 77-year-old pediatrician who pio-
neered public health care in the Delta. “I was
wringing my hands and crying about it one day
when he said, ‘Why don’t you come to my coun-
try and learn how to do it?’ And so I did.”
“He” is Mohammad Shahbazi, M.D., chair of
the Department of Behavioral and Environmen-
tal Health at Jackson State University, who was
born in southern Iran.
Despite its reputation in America as an international pariah with an infamous human rights
record—part of former President George
W. Bush’s “axis of evil”—Iran has
won kudos from the World Health
Organization for its innovative primary health care system. That system
has eliminated health disparities between
rural and urban populations over the last 30
years, reducing infant mortality in rural areas by
tenfold. Last year, as the United States was gearing up for its political slugfest over health care
reform, Shahbazi—with the tacit approval of the
National Institutes of Health and Iran’s ministry
of health—organized a tour of the Iranian health
system for Shirley and James Miller, a health