NACCHO Aboriginal Women’s Health #CATSINaM2016 : Ground breaking Indigenous maternity services program

CAGAYAN DE ORO, PHILIPPINES - 2013/02/09: First pregnant at 15 - Vanessa now aged 19 has 3 children and one more on its way; through prostitution, she is able to support her children in Cagayan de Oro. Abortion in the Philippines is illegal under the constitution and the Catholic Church has opposed attempts to liberalize abortion laws and continues to pit itself against the use of contraceptives. Consequently many women in this impoverished country, especially young women and prostitutes, are pressurized into getting illegal and often dangerous abortions at unlicensed clinics and from backstreet doctors.. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)

We still have a long way to go if we are to close the gap on health inequality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Projects such as Birthing on Country are about making sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have access to the health services needed to change the trajectory of poor health outcomes.

Birthing on Country is not something new, it is a continuation of thousands of years of knowledge and practice – what this project is doing differently is making sure that health services have in place the knowledge and skills they need to make their practice culturally safe and accessible for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children”

 Janine Mohamed, Chief Executive Officer of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, supports the Birthing on Country program as a step forward in the delivery of culturally safe health services.

Picture above : Traditionally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers may have given birth to their children on the lands of their ancestors. Today, however, pregnancy complications or access to healthcare means this isn’t always possible, so non-Indigenous midwives often work together with community elders or traditional midwives to ensure a new mother can maintain a spiritual connection to country – wherever she chooses to give birth.

A partnership between the Australian College of Midwives (ACM), the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM), the University of Queensland (UQ) and the University of Sydney (USyd) has culminated in the launch of a ground breaking ‘Birthing on Country’ maternity services program.

Officially launched by Ms Ann Kinnear and Ms Karel Williams at the CATSINaM International Indigenous Health Workforce Meeting on Monday 7 November 2016, the Birthing on Country program is about getting the best start to life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and their babies.

Birthing on Country values Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and learning. While it involves inclusion of traditional practices, connection with land and country – empowering   the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the development and delivery of the services is also central to the concept.

Funding of $900,000 has been secured for the program, including a grant of $650,000 from the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) for Mothers Program for this initiative over three years.

Ann Kinnear, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian College of Midwives knows the importance of a Birthing on Country approach.

“We have the opportunity through the Birthing on Country program to profoundly and positively affect health outcomes for our Australian Indigenous communities,” Ms Kinnear said.

“We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women do not get a fair go when it comes to maternity care. There are many barriers such as removal from country and cultural disconnection that perpetuate health disparities which we hope will be reduced by the Birthing on Country program.”

Janine Mohamed, Chief Executive Officer of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, supports the Birthing on Country program as a step forward in the delivery of culturally safe health services.

“By incorporating our knowledge into clinical practice we also open the door for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to enter the health workforce – this empowers the community to deliver on health and wellbeing outcomes across the board” Ms Mohamed said.

The Birthing on Country program aims include increasing and supporting the Indigenous maternity workforce, expanding culturally competent maternity care, and establishing primary maternity units.

This program addresses health in an integrated, holistic and culturally appropriate models of care that will make a difference spiritually, culturally, emotionally and practically for women, families and community.

Call to action

ACM and CATSINaM call on all Australian governments to work with them to implement Birthing on Country programs utilising the best evidence to improve the outcomes faced by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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