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$2.5 million to improve health of First Nations families

First nations health
Women and researchers during the Caring for Mum on Country project, Galiwin’ku, Northern Territory. (L-R)-Yvette Roe, Dhurruŋurawuy, Ḻäwurrpa Maypilama, Sarah Ireland, Waŋgarr and Sue Kildea. Photo credit: Patrick Josse

A program that is already showing unprecedented success in improving the health and employment outcomes of First Nations families has been awarded $2.5 million in funding through the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Led by the team at Charles Darwin University’s Molly Wardaguga Research Centre at the College of Nursing and Midwifery, the project is focused on providing the Best Start to Life for First Nations women, babies and families and has been awarded a Centres of Research Excellence (CRE) grant.

Co-director of the Molly Wardaguga Research Centre Associate Professor Yvette Roe said the funding would allow the centre to expand and build on a current program that had resulted in a 50% reduction in preterm birth and 600% increase in First Nations employment.

“Our team has established and evaluated an urban exemplar site where a partnership between two Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (the Institute of Urban Indigenous Health and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Service, Brisbane) and a tertiary hospital (Mater Hospital, Brisbane) led to unprecedented success,” Dr Roe said. “This reduction in preterm birth is unique with no change to national rates since Closing the Gap strategy in 2008.”

Since 2010, Australian Maternity policy has recommended exemplar “Birthing on Country Services” be established in geographically diverse areas to improve First Nations health and provide a blueprint for scaling-up. The team are working with Waminda in NSW to develop the regional exemplar and Yalu in Galiwin’ku for the very remote exemplar site with more sites being planned.  

“Birthing on Country is a metaphor for the best start in life for First Nations families,” Dr Roe said. “Work to redesign the current system to ensure greater First Nations governance and to establish and evaluate Aboriginal Birthing Centres is critical in terms of providing culturally and clinically safe services, reducing risk factors and improving health outcomes.”

She said the team was excited to work with First Nations organisations, health services and an expert panel to achieve the objectives of the grant.

“Birthing on Country Services are complex, evidence-based interventions that also  prioritise  a First Nations workforce aiming to strengthen families for the best start in life,” Dr Roe said.

“Recognising that intensive support in pregnancy can change life trajectories we are targeting two important areas: preventable preterm birth and avoidable infant removals.”

Co-director of the Molly Wardaguga Research Centre Professor Sue Kildea said the funding would enable the team to generate new knowledge to adapt services for remote areas and commence scale-up, while also addressing gaps, such as integrating father-inclusive practice.

“Our national Birthing on Country network will facilitate rapid knowledge translation whilst growing an early career research workforce and enabling collaborative research across the country,” Professor Kildea said.

The Molly Wardaguga Research Centre is named after, Molly Wardaguga (1938–2009) a Burarra Elder, Aboriginal Midwife and Senior Aboriginal Health Worker from Maningrida, Arnhem Land, who made an important contribution to the Australian discourse on Birthing on Country during her lifetime. The CRE includes a representative from Molly Wardaguga’s family to help provide strategic guidance.