A renowned international journal has recognised the success of a Brisbane-based, Indigenous-led birthing program focused on improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mums and bubs.

Published in the internationally recognised journal The Lancet Global Health, the five-year study evaluates the outcomes of the Birthing in Our Community (BiOC) service.

The study found that the BiOC program saw a decrease in caesarean deliveries in women accessing the program, decreased rates of babies admitted to neonatal care nurseries, babies attending five or more antenatal appointments and women breastfeeding upon discharge.

Report lead author Professor Sue Kildea of the Molly Wardaguga Research Centre at Charles Darwin University said culturally safe birthing services should be widely available to Indigenous women.

“Standard health services in Australia often do not meet the needs of First Nations peoples, excluding them from making decisions about their care,” said Professor Kildea.

“We now have evidence that this model works, it’s time to make it more widely available for Indigenous women to access.”

BiOC is facilitated through a partnership between the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service Brisbane (ATSICHS Brisbane) in partnership with Mater Mothers’ Hospital.

The program operates out of Salisbury community-based hub and women who are pregnant with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander babies are eligible to birth at Mater Mother’s Hospital where they will have access to their own midwife, an Aboriginal family support worker and a health team.

IUIH CEO, Adrian Carson said the program has been a game-changer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers.

“We established Birthing in Our Community in 2013 and the results have been astounding,” he said.

“Halving the number of premature births means the babies are more likely to survive and have a healthy life.”

ATSICH Brisbane CEO Jody Currie noted key ingredients of the program’s success being its development in partnership with community and the ongoing care it provides to mothers.

“The ongoing care of the midwives with the mothers and also the increase of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce and those that support the women has been absolutely critical in changing the birthing outcomes for the mothers,” she said.

“In Queensland, approximately, we are at about 30 per cent for caesarean births and the World Health Organisation recommends that in developed countries it should be about 15 per cent.

“Birthing in our Community sits at around 16 per cent, the point of that is the care that is provided to Mum and family, around her and around understanding her body, what is happening to her body and also the social determinants of health, is building her capacity, improving the birthing experience and outcomes for the baby.”

Having the program recognised in the Lancet is a remarkable achievement for the BiOC team.

“It’s so validating for everyone involved, both the staff and the leadership within the Salisbury … it’s been such a great thing to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make such a difference and to be recognised in the Lancet on an international platform around the outcomes of their achievements.

“It demonstrates to all of us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that we do have the solutions and we can get these ground-breaking, world achieving outcomes around closing the gap and making a difference in health outcomes for our babies and all of our people.

“It’s that saying, Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands — we can do this.”

By Rachael Knowles