While the World Health Organisation has succeeded in putting a spotlight on the importance of tackling the marked disparities in maternal and child health outcomes in low and middle income countries, this has not been matched by equivalent attention to the disparities affecting Indigenous populations in high income countries. In the Australian context, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families continue to experience rates of stillbirth, preterm birth, low birthweight and neonatal death that are 2-3 times higher than other Australian women. Understanding why and how this happens, and developing and implementing effective strategies to achieve equitable maternal and child health outcomes for Aboriginal families is an urgent priority for health policy and health services.
The Aboriginal Families Study is a research study that invited Aboriginal women to talk about pregnancy and birthing care and the support that they had from services before and after their baby was born. The study is being conducted by the Healthy Mothers Healthy Families group in partnership with the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.
This week Professor Stephanie Brown (Head, Healthy Mothers Health Families group) was invited to give the NAIDOC week Grand Round at Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital together with Deanna Stuart-Butler, a member of the Aboriginal Advisory Group for the study. Their presentation celebrated a decade of working together to achieve change to improve services for Aboriginal families and reduce disparities in Aboriginal maternal and child health outcomes.
The findings of the Aboriginal Families Study provide a compelling case for stronger efforts to address the clustering of medical and social risk factors for adverse outcomes. In order to ensure antenatal care is relevant for Aboriginal women and families, there is an urgent need to re-frame care in ways that address broader social determinants of health, such as housing insecurity, drug and alcohol problems and family violence, in combination with high quality clinical care. This requires re-thinking frameworks for providing antenatal, early postnatal and primary care; the expansion of Aboriginal workforce; and re-designing services and service systems to pay attention to cultural safety and appropriate ways of engaging Aboriginal families.
Evidence from the Aboriginal Families Study is being used to inform re-design of maternity and early childhood services in South Australia. The presentation in this week’s NAIDOC week Grand Round at Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital was an opportunity to celebrate how much has been achieved, and how much more work there is to be done.