Tuesday, May 5, 2009

the world needs midwives now more than ever

[Print: thanks to artist and mother Emma Flaim]


The Australian College of Midwives has elected to dedicate International Day of the Midwife for 2009 to the challenges faced not by our own profession but by a very important group of women and their families - those of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background.

The maternity outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and their babies continue to be appallingly worse than those for non-indigenous mothers and babies. Babies born to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander mothers are more than 2.5 time more likely to die than non-indigenous babies. In a nation as comparatively wealthy as Australia this is a national disgrace. The federal government is working with the state and territory government to try and close the gap in life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with a multi million funding package over the next few years targeting a range of health and other issues.

While such a high level political commitment is vital and important, it's not the whole answer to resolving the problems faced by Aboriginal women who become pregnant.

Experience overseas indicates that it is also vital for Aboriginal women have increased access to continuity of midwifery care and ideally from midwives who are themselves Aboriginal. Inuit midwives in Canada, and Maori midwives in New Zealand have contributed to major reductions in maternal and infant mortality in their respective homelands. Participation in antenatal care has increased, rates of smoking and drinking during pregnancy have lessened, and rates of pre-term birth and low birthweight have reduced, to the point where in New Zealand, Maori women now benefit from the same rate of maternal and infant mortality as for non-Maori New Zealanders.

The compassion of most Australians towards their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fellow Australians we perhaps no where more evident than when tens of thousands of Australian took to the streets in support of Reconciliation in the late 1990s in the face of refusal by the then federal government to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the 'stolen generations'.

In a spirit of reconciliation, the Australian College of Midwives has decided to do something practical. We are establishing a trust from which we propose to pay annual grants to Aboriginal women studying to become a midwife. Aboriginal midwifery students receive some funding assistance through the federal government. However this is often not sufficient to defray the incidental costs of studying, such as travel to and from clinical placements, purchasing textbooks, or paying for childcare to provide some time and space for study.

We hope to build up a sufficient capital pool to make it possible to provide one-off grants to Aboriginal midwifery students in an effort to support more Aboriginal women to become midwives.

Fundraising for this trust begins today!

You can help to make a difference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and babies by making a donation, however large or small, via the College website.

Just go to www.midwives.org.au and click on the Aboriginal Midwives' Trust Donate Now Button on the home page.

100% of all donations received will go to the Aboriginal midwives' trust fund.

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