‘Closing the Gap’: How maternity services can contribute to reducing poor maternal infant health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women
Citation: Kildea S, Kruske S, Barclay L, Tracy S. ‘Closing the Gap’: How maternity services can contribute to reducing poor maternal infant health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Rural and Remote Health 10: 1383. (Online) 2010. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au
Context: The reproductive health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and infants are significantly poorer than they are for other Australians; they worsen with increasing remoteness where the provision of services becomes more challenging. Australia has committed to ‘Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage' and ‘Closing the Gap’ in health outcomes.
Issues: Fifty-five per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander birthing women live in outer regional and remote areas and suffer some of the worst health outcomes in the country. Not all of these women are receiving care from a skilled provider, antenatally, in birth or postnatally while the role of midwives in reducing maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity is under-utilised. The practice of relocating women for birth does not address their cultural needs or self-identified risks and is contributing to these outcomes. An evidence based approach for the provision of maternity services in these areas is required. Australian maternal mortality data collection, analysis and reporting is currently insufficient to measure progress yet it should be used as an indicator for ‘Closing the Gap’ in Australia.
Lessons learned: A more intensive, coordinated strategy to improve maternal infant health in rural and remote Australia must be adopted. Care needs to address social, emotional and cultural health needs, and be as close to home as possible. The role of midwives can be enabled to provide comprehensive, quality care within a collaborative team that includes women, community and medical colleagues. Service provision should be reorganised to match activity to need through the provision of caseload midwives and midwifery group practices across the country. Funding to embed student midwives and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in this role must be realised. An evidence base must be developed to inform the provision of services in these areas; this could be through the testing of the Rural Birth Index in Australia. The provision of primary birthing services in remote areas, as has occurred in some Inuit and New Zealand settings, should be established. ‘Birthing on Country’ that incorporates local knowledge, on-site midwifery training and a research and evaluation framework, must be supported.
Key words: Aboriginal, Australian maternity care, cultural safety, Indigenous, maternal mortality, midwife.
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