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03 Dec 2018

In suburban streets all over south-east Queensland, an extraordinary program is changing the lives of pregnant Indigenous women and their families.

Birthing in Our Community (BiOC) is a collaboration between the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service (ATSICHS) Brisbane, and the Mater Health Service.

BiOC, run from Mums and Bubs Hubs at the 20 IUIH clinics from the Gold Coast to Caboolture to Laidley in the Lockyer Valley, aims to identify Indigenous pregnancies – where either parent is Indigenous – as early as possible, and offers culturally appropriate 24/7 care throughout the pregnancy, and six weeks of postnatal care by a dedicated midwife.

Since its launch in August 2013, BiOC has reduced preterm births by 50 per cent to 8 per cent - lower than the national non-Indigenous rate - and has increased its Indigenous workforce by 550 per cent.

More than 600 women have had a 24/7 known midwife and family support worker, and almost nine in 10 of those women had five or more antenatal visits.

“If this program was in Cape York, we’d have a Nobel Peace Prize,” IUIH chief executive officer Adrian Carson said.

Transport workers – some of them mothers who have gone through the program themselves – ferry clients to and from appointments.

Family support workers visit the girls and women at their homes for their first appointment, and also sit in on appointments with midwives, to explain any medical language.

Centrelink and Department of Housing staff attend the clinic monthly, and every Friday is “community day”, where clients are encouraged to find where their passion lies, whether it be cooking, face painting, sewing, or another pastime.

When the women go into labour, their midwife meets them at the hospital, as “a friendly face in a familiar shirt”, Dr Claire Maguire says.

Most of the women go home as quickly as possible, usually after four hours, and their midwife sees them daily for up to six weeks after the birth.

On a recent visit to the Salisbury Mums and Bubs Hub on Brisbane’s southside, AMA President Dr Tony Bartone met staff at the centre, including Kylie and Gwen, who have both become midwives.

Kylie had her own baby midway through her midwifery degree.

“Now I want to give back and support other students,” she said.

Gwen said she had been inspired to pursue midwifery as a pregnant 17-year-old by an Aboriginal midwifery nurse who would drive around in the community and drop off medical supplies like iron tablets.

“I was 17, having a child, and I didn’t feel secure around the people who were supposed to be caring for me,” she said.

“I want to see more of our mob come through as midwives.

“I was able to go to university, and I was supported to get through. And the graduate program is culturally appropriate.”

The program is being evaluated through a longitudinal prospective birth cohort study comparing maternal and infant health outcomes between women accessing maternity care through BiOC with the Ngarrama program at the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital.

Women from both programs are invited to participate in surveys when they book into hospital at 36 weeks antenatally, and at two and six months postnatally. More than 600 women have been recruited into the study, which is funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) partnership grant.

The study has so far produced three published papers and two that are under review – one of them by The Lancet.

MARIA HAWTHORNE

PIC: Dr Tony Bartone with staff at the Salisbury Mums and Bubs Hub

 


Published: 03 Dec 2018