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What can the Delta of Mississippi learn from rural Iran? Plenty, according to Dr. Aaron Shirley (above left), a 77-year-old pediatrician. In a wonderful story in the Los Angeles Times, Bob Drogin tells how Shirley is trying to copy a wildly successful Iranian rural health care program in his home state of Mississippi.

The Iranians have set up 17,000 “health houses,” what Drogin describes as “rural medical outposts staffed by community health workers.” Putting basic health care workers and information into communities has helped drop Iran’s infant mortality rate by 70% over the last 30 years. “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,” Drogan reports. “The health workers would refer patients to clinics or hospitals for more advanced care and follow up with home visits.”

“The community health workers will know who has diabetes, who has high blood pressure, who is 10 or 12 years old and pregnant,” Dr. Shirley said. “They will know it because they live in the neighborhood and see them at church or the corner store.” 

Some Iranian doctors came to tour the Delta with Dr. Shirley, which must have been quite a trip. “We played black gospel and blues for those Iranians,” said Sylvester Hoover, 52, owner of Baptist Town’s only business, a one-room grocery, laundromat and barbecue grill where the Iranians visited. “They were just hugging us they were so excited. They loved it.” We love it, too.

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