AP – Miss. looks to Iran for rural health care model

GREENWOOD, Miss. — Scratch-poor towns in the Mississippi Delta once shared more in common with rural Iran — scarce medical supplies, inaccessible health care and high infant mortality rates — than with most of the U.S.

Then things in Iran got better.

Since the 1980s, rural Iranians have been able to seek treatment at health houses, informal sites set up in small communities as the first stop for medical care, rather than an emergency room. They’re staffed by citizens, not doctors, and the focus is on preventive care.

Infant deaths have dropped from 200 per 1,000 births to 26. With the Delta’s rate 10 times worse than Iran’s, a group of volunteers is traveling to Iran this month to get a crash course in how health houses work.

“Why not try this?” asked Dr. Aaron Shirley, who has worked around the Delta for 40 years and is spearheading the effort to transform health care in a region where nearly three out of 10 infants die, residents are plagued by chronic illnesses, especially diabetes and heart disease, and few have health insurance.