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Improving maternal and infant birthing outcomes for first nations people

Dr. Yvette Roe presenting a professorial lecture at CDU
Associate Professor Yvette Roe presenting a professorial lecture at CDU

Associate Professor Yvette Roe has been awarded a prestigious Churchill Fellowship for 2019.

Associate Professor, Co-Director Molly Wardaguga Research Centre is a proud a Nijkena Jawuru woman from the West Kimberly region of Western Australia and grew up in Darwin. In September, Yvette was awarded a Churchill Fellowship 2019. The aim of the Churchill Trust is to provide an opportunity for Australians to travel overseas to conduct research in their chosen field that is not readily available in Australia.

Yvette will travel to Canada in 2020 to collaborate with First Nation, Metis and Inuit leading researchers to implement innovative ways that health services have been redesigned to engage the Indigenous community and measure Indigenous community engagement mechanisms that contribute to improved health gains.

Birthing on Country is an international movement to return birthing services to First Nations communities and control for improved health and wellbeing. Australia currently lags behind Canada in involving the Indigenous community to the development and delivery of Birthing on Country Services. Based on recent research from Canada, Birthing on Country Services deliver culturally and clinically safe care, improved birthing outcomes and community engagement. My work with Indigenous organisations and a tertiary hospital has seen a reduction of pre-term births. To assess and evaluate the impact of community engagement on the health gains, it is important to draw on the expertise of First Nation Canadians who have successfully embedded community engagement into routine maternity services.

A primary output from the Fellowship will be the establishment of leading Indigenous scholars to develop the Birthing on Country Community engagement: How-To Guide. The Guide will be developed in collaboration with leading International Indigenous scholars and health care providers. This will be achieved by creating a collaborative partnership of Indigenous research leaders to understand the mechanisms for success i.e. for whom and in what context for health gains.

The How-To Guide will be the first document to identify, measure, implement and evaluate community engagement for maternity services in Australia. The Guide will be informed by over 30 years’ experience of delivering Birthing on Country Services and research expertise from Canada. The collaboration will bridge the gap in knowledge in Australia and accelerate the implementation of evidence-based strategies that improve maternal and infant health gains. The Guide will be strength-based and solution-focused. Implementing community engagement strategies provides short and long-term solutions to address the maternal death rates that are 4.6 times higher in Indigenous women compared to non-Indigenous women with avoidable risk factors contributing to this statistic including poor communication, failing to accommodate culturally safe practices and a lack of interpreters or Aboriginal health workers. Importantly, community engagement will be the conduit that will allow Indigenous women will feel 'safe' to engage with services that meet their cultural and clinical needs. The Guide also will also be evidence-generating to inform national policy and local services.