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New Alukura birthing service opens in Mparntwe/Alice Springs

Dechlan Brennan -

The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress has opened the Alukura Midwifery Group Practice, which will allow women to keep the same midwife all the way through their pregnancy and birth.

On Wednesday, the new program was officially opened in Mparntwe/Alice Springs, which will allow women to have their congress midwife alongside them during their birth at Alice Springs Hospital.

Congress said the new partnership and service would aim to reduce pre-term labour and promote healthier birth weights.

Chief executive Donna Ah Chee said Congress Alukura had been trying to establish a Midwifery Group Practice (MGP) model of care since the early 2000's, noting evidence showed this type of service model was most effective.

"Aboriginal women have continued to be very clear, as are all women, that they prefer continuity of care with a known midwife throughout their pregnancy," she said.

In 2020, Congress partnered with the Molly Wardaguga Research Centre, based at Charles Darwin University, as well as private provider of Midwifery led care, My Midwives, which in turn has helped secure a new birthing agreement with Alice Springs Hospital.

"This partnership approach has been successful in securing a new birthing agreement with Alice Springs Hospital which has enabled the establishment of the new Alukura MGP service, provided in partnership with My Midwives," Ms Ah Chee said.

The initial idea of the project is 40 years in the making.

The program is about reducing pre-term labour and promote healthier birth weights (Image: Congress)

In 1984, several hundred Aboriginal women from more than 60 communities - and 11 language groups - met in Mparntwe/Alice Springs to establish what would later become Congress Alukura by the Grandmother's Law.

Central to their vision was women being able to give birth under Aboriginal community control in a way which would ensure the traditional cultural integrity of the birthing process on Aboriginal land.

Ms Ah Chee said Alukura has been "through stages where it was able to support births at Alukura but without a formal agreement with Alice Springs hospital the capacity to support the majority of births was not possible".

Highlighting an Indigenous Birthing in an Urban Setting (IBUS) prospective cohort study, first tested with positive results in South-East Queensland, Ms Ah Chee said: "The new Alukura MGP service will test the same service model in Central Australia which has not previously been done in a remote context anywhere in Australia."

"There is very good reason however to assume that this service model will provide better outcomes for Aboriginal women in Central Australia as well."

NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthy told ABC Radio Alice Springs the launch as a long time coming, and a "beautiful moment" for grandmothers and the grandmother's law.

"Where we've gone now is to establish the midwifery section. In terms of the GP practice with Molly Wardaguga and with Congress and with My Midwives to encourage more midwifery of Aboriginal women in that space," she said.

"But also, just to ensure that our babies are born healthy and that there is learning, pre-birth and post birth as to how to raise your children."

The partnership has secured funding for the research support through the Rise Safely project, funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

"Congress has allocated funding for the midwifery care aspect of the intervention as well as Aboriginal Maternity Care workers from our core primary health care funds," Ms Ah Chee said.

"The new service commenced late last year and there have already been more than 50 births supported by the new partnership service with early indications of improved outcomes including in the critical area of supporting pregnancies go closer to full term.

"Given how important a healthy birth weight is to lifelong health and the prevention of chronic diseases we are very confident that this new MGP will help to Close the Gap in Aboriginal Life Expectancy."

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