Friday, March 26, 2010

A remarkable story about one of the United States and Iran

Every once in a while a news story shakes up your comfortable view of what the world is like. I have my cliché views of Mississippi, backward and conservative, and though I am not nearly so paranoid about Iran as most people in North America, it is a place with a repressive government, tremendous economic problems, which poses certain dangers to people in countries that its government disapproves of.

Before you read this, I would not have expected to hear that people in the state of Mississippi and the Islamic Republic of Iran were cooperating on a project to bring Iranian public health techniques to Mississippi. Since I think that a serious commitment to public health is practically synonymous with "civilization," this article in the Times Online both flabbergasted and pleased me.

An excerpt:

...with Congress acrimoniously debating the reform of healthcare, it is to Iran that one of America’s poorest communities is turning to try to resolve its own health crisis.

A US doctor and a development consultant visited Iran in May to study a primary healthcare system that has cut infant mortality by more than two-thirds since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Then, in October, five top Iranian doctors, including a senior official at the health ministry in Tehran, were quietly brought to Mississippi to advise on how the system could be implemented there.

The Mississippi Delta has some of the worst health statistics in the country, including infant mortality rates for non-whites at Third World levels.

“It’s time to look for a new model,” said Dr Aaron Shirley, one of the state’s leading health campaigners.

“Forty years ago, when I was a resident at Jackson hospital, I was in charge of admitting sick babies and was astonished at all the children coming in from the delta with diarrhoea, meningitis, pneumonia.

“After years of health research and expenditure of millions of dollars, nothing much has changed.”
Facing shortages of money and trained doctors at the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, the new government launched a system based on community “health houses”, each serving about 1,500 people.

Locals were trained as health workers known as behvarz, who would travel their area, dispensing advice about healthy eating, sanitation and contraception as well as monitoring blood pressure and conditions such as diabetes.

It was a stunning success, reducing child mortality rates by 69% and maternal mortality in rural areas from 300 per 100,000 births to 30. There are now 17,000 health houses in Iran, covering more than 90% of its rural population of 23m.

Miller contacted Shirley, who is seen as a community health pioneer in Mississippi and had recently converted a deserted shopping centre in Jackson into a “medical mall” for the poor.

“I thought if the Iranians could do it with a fraction of resources we have, then why shouldn’t we?” said Shirley.
Shirley and Miller visited Iran in May and were astonished to be welcomed with open arms. When they went to remote villages to see the health houses, the Iranians were equally amazed.

“They told us this is a miracle,” said Miller. “Not only were Americans coming here, but also they were learning from us rather than telling us what to do.”

One villager exclaimed: “We always knew rain fell down but never knew it could fall up.”

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why We Immunize

A post at the popular blog Making Light that deserves wide readership and a more permanent stand-alone home on the Web.

Kids my age were still getting polio in the USA when I was young.

I think that mass purification of water/proper sewerage and mass immunization are the most worthwhile collective enterprises that humanity has ever undertaken. They are practically the definition of civilization.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Peanuts for public health saves babies in the poorest countries

Yesterday the Globe and Mail ran a piece by Stephanie Nolan on successful measures to fight infant mortality; she focused on Malawi, where a few simple measures costing about as much as Canadian undergraduates pay for lunch has saved many lives:

The first page of Alfred Malunga's fat village register is taken up by a single family. Mother, father, five children, the last a baby girl named Molly. A red cross has been inked in beside her name.

“I use that sign when someone passes away,” explained Mr. Malunga, the village health worker who maintains the register, two volumes long and 12 centimetres high. “That child died of malaria.”

But turn the page. And the next. There are no more red crosses for 10 pages. Molly is the only child in her village to have died in the past six months.

This is a startling thing in Malawi, one of the poorest nations in the world, chronically short of food and with less than $10 a person spent on health care each year.

This kind of good news is becoming more common:

The application of a handful of simple, low-cost measures, from giving families $2 mosquito nets to encouraging breastfeeding, is spurring a sharp decline in child deaths around the world.

Malawi also pays village health workers to administer these kinds of programs, which is more than some other countries that are equally or less poor do. Alfred Malunga makes the princely sum of $36 a month.

A year ago I had a couple of posts (1) (2) on effective public health measures as a sign and product of true historical progress -- let me be blunt, moral progress.

Reject any analysis of world history that does not dedicate serious thought to this issue. And read the article. Oh, Canadians: your taxes are making a significant contribution to this effor

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