Operating theater in a modern Tehran hospital
After education, the health and medical care sector were the socond largest recipient of Government funds for social affairs, and in the current budget year will be allocated about $900 million, more in fact than the oil and gas sectors combined.
From having been a pioneer in medical research throughout the medieval period (scholars of Iranian origin like Tabari, Razi and Avicenna laid the groundwork for modern medicine) Iran's own medical facilities sank to all-time low during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At the time of Reza Shah's advent to power there were only 500 physicians, 100 pharmacies and perhaps a dozen hospitals in the entire country. Health conditions in Iran during the beginning of the century have been described by the economic historian Julian Bharier as at best poor and at worst gruesome by Western standards. In the villages, for example, families lived in a one or two- room houses, often sharing it with animals. Drinking water was usually polluted and the public baths were unhygienic. Life expectancy was low, increasing only gradually from 25 to 40 years, with death resulting in the main from dysentery, typhoid, malaria, measles and relapsing fever. In addition, debilitating diseases such as trachoma, tuberculosis, various types of worms, and venereal diseases affected large segments of the population
Reza Shah made a head start by encouraging the training of medica! personnel, but even in 1941 there were only four hospitals and 0.3 physicians for every 10,000 persons. Most medical personnel lived in the capital and the average villager had virtually no access to qualified medical care. Soothsayers and charlatans peddling charms and often dangerous remedies were the only choices he had.
The creation of many modern hospitals by both Government and private sector in the early sixties and the establishment of the Health Corps in 1965 made an immediate and dramatic impact. The Health Corps operating from regional bases and staffed with specialists and modern equipment made also formidable strives in rural areas.
The teams established rural clinics and visited them regularly on prescribed days. In addition to medical treatment the Health Corps taught villagers how to prevent disease and improve health conditions. They supervised water supplies, recommended sewerage schemes, gave vaccinations, trained midwives and advised on birth control.
Conventional medical services were also improved substantially. The Fifth Plan target increased the number of hospital beds from 13.6 to 17.2 per 10,000 persons. Between 1962 and 1973 the number of physicians and dentists rose from 5,264 to 11,774, nurses from 114 to 5,428 and pharmacists from 1,511 to 3,954.
Public health services, such as vaccinations and environmental sanitation, were totally free, pharmaceutical prices and medical care charges were strictly controlled or subsidized, and an increasing proportion of the population enjoyed the benefits of health insurance. Children up to the age of two were given free nutrition. An ever larger number of Iranians enjoyed the benefits of health insurance.