Rosiland Jordan: In a Mississippi Delta neighborhood known as Baptist Town, the people have needed a miracle here for a long time now. Good-paying manufacturing jobs that were once here vanished long before the current economic crisis, and with them so did a lifeline.
Sylvester Hoover, Greenwood Merchant and Music Historian: Those people who worked at those jobs, they’d been there for ever, they’d been there for 20 plus years, and now they’re left with no insurance, no severance pay, no nothing, and they just hit rock bottom.
Rosiland Jordan: Enter Dr. Aaron Shirley, a pediatrician and public health advocate, from nearby Jackson. He wants to create a network of what’s called health houses across the impoverished Delta region. Residents from the local communities would be trained as health workers to help their neighbors with their medical concerns.
Dr. Aaron Shirley, Jackson Medical Mall Foundation: Because the community have workers. It’s from their community. The community have workers . . . who feel comfortable going knocking on the door and say, “I’m here because of your doctor . . . to check to see that you are able to comply with what he’s recommended.”
Rosiland Jordan: Dr. Shirley didn’t invent the concept. The Iranians did, back in 1980, by creating a plan to provide basic healthcare in rural areas. More than 17,000 health houses now serve nearly 20 million people across rural Iran. The program has helped the infant mortality rate drop nearly 70% and made vaccinations readily available. Dr. Shirley, with the help of his colleague Mohammad Shahbazi, visited Shiraz University in Iran in 2009 to see whether the Iranians could help.
Mohammad Shahbazi, PhD, Jackson State University Public Health Expert: They have offered to train community health workers . . . for free. They are willing to provide even lodgings for them to the extent that they can. So they are willing to support, and they are also willing to actually come to the sites and make sure that what we are doing is something that is similar, technically speaking, to the system they have. So they have been very, very open.
Rosiland Jordan: The idea of Iranians giving Americans public health advice seems like an unlikely situation, but the Iranians say they signed on because they feel an obligation to help a community that seems to have been forgotten by everyone else. But could health houses really make a difference in the Delta, in a state where infant mortality is at least 50% higher than the national average and where obesity and heart disease are rampant? The challenge seems enormous, but Dr. Shirley says he is ready for the task.
Aaron Shirley: It wouldn’t be fun if there were a guarantee. The challenge is what makes it worth doing.
Rosiland Jordan: And it’s not the challenge that faces the Mississippi Delta. It’s also about overcoming the challenge of bridging political differences between nations.
Mohammad Shahbazi: I think we all need to really work together and leave the politics aside, so that it would be people-to-people, you know, work and interaction.
Rosiland Jordan: A shared dream of a better life for people, in the heart of America’s Deep South. Rosiland Jordan, Al Jazeera, Greenwood, Mississippi.
Rosiland Jordan is a freelance journalist and correspondent for Al Jazeera. This video was released by Al Jazeera on 23 April 2010. The text above is an edited partial transcript of the video. See, also, Paco Arnau, “Haiti: There Is Aid, and Then There Is US Aid”; Bernard D’Mello Interviewed by Asian Pacific Forum, “Maoist Movement in India”; Jayati Ghosh Interviewed by Paul Jay, “No Indian Miracle.”