Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Houses

Imagine getting Mississippi, Nazis, the Tuskegee experiment, Iran, WHO, and health care reform into the same story:
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.
Hmm, a health system modeled on Iran's coming to rural Mississippi? This one's gonna be a bit hard to take at face value seeing as how that same government used its own citizens as "human waves" in the war against Iraq (after taking our embassy staff hostage) and is currently run by a dictator prone to publicity stunts. So please bear with my skeptical questions for a spell.

Now, we have a pioneering Mississippi physician and civil rights activist named Aaron Shirley who discovered the apparent successes of Iranian "health houses" formed after the Islamic revolution and figured they could work in the Delta region, where health rates lag the national average. A meeting with Iranian doctors was arranged and the two parties exchanged visits, then hatched a plan entitled "Mississippi/Islamic Republic of Iran rural health project".

There were two major stories on this, one from the London Times (quoted above) and another more recent version from the LA Times, which was a lot more informative, including this quip from Dr. Shirley regards the fact-finding trip:
"I felt safer in Iran than I felt in Mississippi in the 1960s,"
OK, well perspective is important. The LA version mentioned the involvement of Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson and the 30 million federal dollars the group is seeking for a pilot program but it did not mention them keeping the program secret from governor Haley Barbour, something the London Times had previously revealed. Why keep it from Barbour other than the fact he's a GOP bigwig? OK, perhaps rhetorical, but what did they think he might do?

Both versions mentioned some involvement from the US and Iranian governments--a given really--but neither specifically mentioned Ahmadinejad. And that's odd, since the Iranian crown must certainly be aware of such a thing otherwise heads would be rolling--literally down the street. So we can presume the Mullahs know and are in favor.

In another twist the London Times decided to consult with a peace health expert for the story, a Dr. Paula Gutlove, who also shared some historical wisdom about the cold war while trumping the hopeful partnership:
Gutlove points out that similar meetings between American and Soviet scientists in the 1980s helped pave the way for the end of the cold war. “What we did in the 1980s created lasting relationships which cut across the divide,” she said.
At first I thought she might have been referring to the Federation of Atomic Scientists, which would have included current Obama administration science czar John Holdren, but I think she means the 1985 Nobel winners in medicine:
The 1985 Nobel Peace Prize was given to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, (IPPNW), a group founded with the explicit involvement of the Soviet dictatorship. In fact, Yevgeny Chazov, Soviet Deputy Minister of Health, served as one of IPPNW's three co-chairmen.
Anybody but Reagan. Surely Ms Gutlove wasn't suggesting the Soviet scientists were any more rogue than these Iranian doctors with both operating in totalitarian regimes? But darn, I thought the left had given most of the credit for beating the Soviets to Charlie Wilson. So confusing.

Anyway, what to make of this? Well, we know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure therefore something like this might actually work in impoverished, undereducated areas. We know that throwing money at the problem didn't help. We know we can't always judge a book by its cover. And we know we'd like to see the numbers improve.

We also know that Utopian lefties would love nothing more but to rub something like this in the face of every arrogant Muslim-hating American redneck teabagger, and we know A'jad and maybe Obama stand to gain from any successes as well. But if health improves, who cares, right?

That depends. As with the recently passed healthcarepalooza bill there's always a price to pay and at some point the risk can surpass the reward. The health houses in Iran function as more than health houses; the practitioners also keep tabs on the community. Might they also be reporting to the state? Might bears be pooping in the woods?

The London version mentions a Mr. James Miller as coming up with the idea initially, whom they describe as managing director of the Oxford International Development Group in Oxford, MS, an entity which doesn't seem to have much of a web presence. The LA version describes him as such:
The proposal to emulate Iran came from James Miller, a medical services consultant in Oxford, Miss.
This blurb mentions Miller, and mentions that indeed the health workers employed at the health houses will be carrying around messages other than just the importance of flossing and eating some fruit. So it's a legitimate concern to wonder what those public health messages might be and who will control them.

And, while the London paper omitted it, the LA Times mentioned another participant--Dr. Mohammad Shahbazi, an Iranian-American teaching at Jackson State University who helped to arrange the trip to Iran. If A'jad indeed blessed this endeavor where does that leave Shahbazi? Was it just his medical connections and the Farsi language conduit?

No relation to Shahbazi, but this narrative from the London Times' expert Ms Gutlove provides at least some glimpse into the mindset of those backing these efforts. I think most American people realize that the average Iranians are being held hostage by their government after watching the election riots and were perhaps confused by our lack of a strong response, an angle she didn't play. But her trip came during the Bush years when Scott Ritter was predicting yearly attacks.

Granted, everything above is circumstantial. It very well may be a harmless example of strange bedfellows that works out in the end. Sometimes liberals do have good ideas! But it seems strange so few have asked questions about a story containing such notorious foreign players. So I'll leave you with this comment from a senior citizen in the Delta:
"I ain't never heard of Iran," she said. "But we could sure use somebody's help."
Hitler, Iran, whatever it takes. These guys plan to spread this program nationwide if successful--just imagine the PR for Tehran good will fostered between our two peoples and how it might impact future negotiations. So has anyone quizzed Hillary?


Debbie said...

Well, after reading the entire article, it appears that this could be a ruse of some kind to get Western thought into Iran, maybe.

I've known Christian missionaries who entered other countries under their "profession", such as doctors, teachers, whatever. They did carry out those jobs, but their main purpose was to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some got away with it, some didn't.

But this could also be just a bunch of flaming liberal do-gooders who have no idea the harm they might do.

The inverse could also be true, this could be bringing "bad" guys from Iran into the US...

Right Truth

A.C. McCloud said...

It's hard to say. The main thing that seems suspect is the potential to spread political thought around on these visits, especially when the patients are beholden to the health house people for care. The left makes a big issue out of that with various charities and Union Missions, etc, so we'll see. Just thought it was a pretty big story to not be getting much press.