A remedy for Mississippi’s health blues

Reporting from Greenwood, Miss. – Dr. Aaron Shirley has devoted his career to serving the rural poor in the Mississippi Delta, but now the 77-year-old pediatrician believes the key to reducing the nation’s highest infant mortality rates lies in a surprising place: the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Never mind that America and Iran broke diplomatic relations after militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, or that the White House is seeking new United Nations sanctions to punish the regime for its nuclear development program.

In May, Shirley and two colleagues flew to Iran for 10 days to study a low-cost rural healthcare delivery system that, according to the World Health Organization, has helped cut infant deaths by 70% over the last three decades.

In October, four top Iranian doctors, including an official from Iran’s Ministry of Health, visited Mississippi for a week. They spoke at a conference in Jackson, the state capital, and toured the Delta.

“Sometimes communication was not easy,” Dr. Hossein Malekafzali, a professor in the School of Public Health at Tehran University, recalled in a phone interview. “But they can understand our system and translate it to Mississippi.”


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