Dr Mark Wenitong, Senior Medical Officer at the Apunipima Cape York Health Council and Part time PHMO at NACCHO pictured bottom left one of the team
A UNIQUE trial of a smoking intervention for pregnant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is the winner of the 2013 MJA, MDA National Prize for Excellence in Medical Research, for the best research paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia in the previous calendar year.
Entitled “An intensive smoking intervention for pregnant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women: a randomised controlled trial”, the winning paper was authored by Sandra Eades, head of the Indigenous Maternal and Child Health Research Program at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne; Rob Sanson-Fisher, Laureate Professor of Health Behaviour at the University of Newcastle; Mark Wenitong, Senior Medical Officer at the Apunipima Cape York Health Council in Cairns; Katie Panaretto, Population Health Medical Officer at the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council in Brisbane; Catherine D’Este, Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Newcastle; Conor Gilligan, lecturer at the University of Newcastle; and Jessica Stewart, a PhD student at the University of Newcastle.
Smoking rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are high and a particular problem is the prevalence of smoking during pregnancy, which is thought to be about 50%.
In this trial — the first of its kind — 263 women attending their first antenatal visit at one of three Aboriginal community-controlled health services were randomly allocated to two pathways.
The intervention group was invited to participate in a program of tailored advice and ongoing support to quit smoking, delivered by a general practitioner and other health care workers.
The “usual care” group received standard advice and support from the GP at scheduled antenatal visits.
There was a high uptake of the intervention by the women to whom it was offered but this was a “negative study” in the sense that smoking rates remained high at 36 weeks of pregnancy — 89% in the intervention group and 95% in the usual care group — a difference that was not statistically significant.
This was in some ways a disappointing outcome, especially as it came on the back of extensive background research and a unique collaboration by this group of researchers from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, the University of Newcastle, the Apunipima Cape York Health Council and the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council.
However, the judges from the MJA’s Content Review Committee recognised that this research, conducted with robust and transparent methodology in a difficult real-world setting, contributes to the very important endeavour of improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children.
Sponsored by MDA National, this prize awards the authors a cash prize of $10 000.