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Physicians in the Mississippi Delta, where rates of hypertension, diabetes, — and poverty – have long been among the highest in the nation, are looking to Iran for a new health care model.

Joel K. Bourne, Jr., writes in the new AARP bulletin, that Dr. Mohammad Shahbazi, M.D., chair of  Behavioral and Environmental Health at Jackson State U., took two Mississippi health professionals to his native Iran. They saw first hand Iran’s primary health care system that has “eliminated health disparities between rural and urban populations over the last 30 years, reducing infant mortality in rural areas by tenfold.”

The Iranian model hires villagers known as behvarzes as “the first line of defense” in local “health houses”: centers for primary care. Men take charge of environmental health problems –sanitation and water testing — and women “concentrate on child and maternal health, family planning, vaccinations and tracking each family’s births, deaths and medical histories.”

The Mississippi physicians are now applying for funding to set up ten such centers in rural Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. “The health house system in Iran is like the German VW Beetle,” says James Miller, a health consultant from Oxford, MS. “It’s simple and it works. It was developed by a country that wasn’t too popular at the time,” but it solved a fundamental social problem.

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