Close to 1,000 Muslim health care professionals from around the country will meet in Atlanta this weekend to discuss medical treatment and training programs in developing countries.
The doctors, nurses and researchers are with the Ismaili Health Professional Association, a Houston-based group that runs clinics and organizes missions in Asia and Africa.
Ismailis represent about 15 million of the more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide. They are a subset of Shiite Muslims, who are a separate, smaller Muslim community than the majority Sunni Muslims.
Shiites split off from the mainstream Sunni community centuries ago over the question of succession to the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, who died in 632.
Shiites believe leadership of the faith should lie with descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and son-in-law Ali, who was also Muhammad's first cousin.
Most Shiites believe that the line of imams ended in the ninth century. Ismailis believe the line continues with the current Aga Khan, who lives near Paris.
The Aga Khan's daughter, Princess Zahra, will be the keynote speaker at the conference.
The Ismaili Health Professional Association focuses most of its efforts in Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and East Africa, said the group's Dr. Mansoor Saleh.
The group has trained doctors in those countries to perform cataract surgery and taught residents ill from diarrhea to drink a salt, rice and water solution to offset dehydration, Saleh said.
The Ismailis want to work on treating cholera, dispensing flu vaccine and reducing deaths among infants and mothers. Part of the goal of the conference is to make connections with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health organizations to advance those projects.
Saleh said the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in the spring -- which started in rural China -- demonstrated the importance of paying attention to health issues in all countries, not just in rich nations.
"It showed that the connectedness between the developing world and the developed world is crucial," he said.