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Major boost for Birthing on Country services

Giovanni Torre -

A key research centre has received a significant funding boost to expand support for Birthing on Country services vital for First Nations mothers and babies.

The nearly $5million in funding for Charles Darwin University's Molly Wardaguga Research Centre has been provided as part of the federal government's Medical Research Future Fund; a "long-term investment to support Australian health and medical research and improve the health and wellbeing of Australians", CDU said on Wednesday.

The CDU Birthing on Country program currently supports Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and other partners to establish and evaluate three demonstration Birthing on Country services in rural (Nowra, NSW), remote (Alice Springs, NT) and very remote (Galiwin'ku, NT) sites.

The new funding will assist with generating high-quality research that demonstrates the positive clinical, economic and social impacts of this innovative service at a societal and family level in diverse geographical areas.

Molly Wardaguga Research Centre Director and Professor of Indigenous Health Yvette Roe, a proud Njikena Jawuru woman, said generating the evidence and expanding the Birthing on Country program will go a long way in supporting the equity of birthing experiences of First Nations women across Australia.

"This funding helps to solidify the work we have been doing with our community partners to test the translation of a clinically and cost-effective service model in an urban setting into geographically diverse locations," she said.

"The Birthing on Country program is informed by First Nations knowledge and at its core it is about maternal health justice. It supports a First Nations workforce trained to care for mothers and babies and focuses on improving the two-way cultural knowledge transfer in the birthing system."

Research shows First Nations women experience poorer maternal outcomes when compared to other Australian women, and if living in geographically remote areas the health inequalities are further exacerbated.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are almost twice as likely to have a preterm birth and almost four times more likely to die during childbirth than other Australian women.

"Preterm birth is one of the largest causes of stillbirth, infant and child mortality, and a significant contributor to lifelong disability and chronic diseases in First Nations Australians," Professor Roe said.

"Our goal in these three demonstration sites is to reduce preterm babies (babies born too soon). This has already been done in an urban setting where a study has found a 38 per cent reduction in preterm babies."

The Molly Wardaguga Research Centre plans to establish a Birthing on Country Translation Research Centre over the five-year period of the grant to "drive the scale-up of the program".

The Centre will look to develop and evaluate an educational program on reflective supervision, cultural safety, and trauma-informed care as well as a 24/7 clinical midwifery program as First Nations midwifery staff transition from standard care to Birthing on Country services.

Professor Roe said the funding will allow research findings to be converted into action in the form of training and supporting frontline workers by providing them with structured guidelines and resources to conduct the program with "a high level of clinical and cultural excellence".

"Additionally, the funding will enable support for research, evaluation and quality improvement activities for the services dedicated to caring for First Nations mothers and babies," she said.

Molly Wardaguga Research Centre Deputy Director of Research and Innovation, Professor Sue Kildea, said this funding will go a long way in supporting the future of Birthing on Country services.

"The goal of this next stage is to help organisations and communities implement Birthing on Country services that are underpinned by evidence, and for them to be able to transition to, and sustain these services into the future," Professor Kildea said.

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