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Indigenous Infant and Maternal Health Two-hundred and forty one years ago Captain Cook and his

crew sailed onto the shores of Australia. The issue that befell our ancestors was over land, a simple matter. Today s concern is much more complex. The indigenous, the original inhabitants of Australia are suffering, suffering with diseases normally easily cured. Did you know that the life expectancy for Aboriginal s is 20 years less than t hat of the non-indigenous? And over 45% of aboriginals die under the age of 45. So, why is indigenous health so bad? There are many causes and factors in the state of their health. In recent years, much thought and assistance has been given to improve ove rall indigenous health. For example, a study in the Northern Territory shows that the Indigenous population are becoming less prone to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Mortality rates for Indigenous Australians have dramatically fallen over the decades, dropping 22% between 1991 and 2003. The progress of recent years demonstrates that government investment, particularly in primary health care, is beginning to pay dividends in some areas. (Australian Health Ministers Advisor y Council, 2006) Though progress is slow, it certainly is progress. One of the major alarms in the indigenous society is infant and maternal health. Compared to other children of the same age, 80% of aboriginal infants die under the age of one. This is a devastating rate of infant mortality. This may be because the ages of mothers are getting lower and lower. In 2008 statistics showed that teenagers mothered 20% of babies born to Indigenous women. In comparison to non -indigenous women (4% teenagers), this ra te is exponentially higher. Despite these large, overwhelming statistics, there is most definitely improvement happening. Though infant death for Indigenous babies is still at a high rate, it is slowly progressing. Since last decade infant mortality rates are decreasing. From 21.9 deaths to 11.6 deaths per 100 live births, this is undeniably a large change in mortality, having almost halved in numbers. Another positive point is the fact that teenage pregnancy is at its lowest since 1970. There are many contributing factors to the state of infant and maternal health. Some of the most major risk factors that add to a harmful pregnancy include alcohol or substance abuse, poverty, lack of nutrition and rural living. Consumption of alcohol or any form of substan ce abuse can ultimately result in children having a dependency on alcohol. Another disturbing effect alcohol can have upon unborn infants is Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. This syndrome can affect infants both mentally and physically and is a life-long disorder. Indigenous babies appear to be more susceptible to this syndrome. Ingesting alcohol during pregnancy is also linked to low birth weights and

preterm births. Drinking is the beginning of a lifelong and intergenerational pathway to physical, social and mental ill-health (Elliott 2004).

Poverty, in this sense, is not as extreme as a third -world country, but simply referring to mothers who have no income, no source of education etc. Living in these conditions while pregnant can have a major effect on a child s psychological and physical health. Low socioeconomic status has been affiliated with smoking, drinking, substance abuse , depression, domestic violence and low social support. Nutrition, healthy eating, is a very important factor in pregnancy, and when one does not receive the required nutrients, it can cause illness for both mother and baby. Unhealthy, emaciated mothers are not receiving proper support during their pregnancy. Lack of sustenance has been linked to low -birth weight and growth restrictions in Indigenous babies. Rural living has less to do with health issues as it has to do with accessibility. Living in a remote area means that mothers have no contact with midwives or support groups. When the time comes to have their baby, women have to drive to the nearest hospital and many aren t even bothering. Not receiving the proper support at clinics and not having much access to healthy, nutritious foods are leading to lower birth weights and higher mortality rates. There are so many ways to aid infant and maternal health. Every single issue needs to be addressed and though there are groups for non -indigenous women, there are few facilities available to Aboriginal women. One possible program that could be implemented would be Rural Access to Hosp itals and Clinics. This program would allow pregnant Indigenous women in isolated areas to access support and medical help quickly and sufficiently. A local clinic would be built in convenient locations, making midwifes and medicines more available to coun try areas. Other very successful programs similar to this one would be the Royal Flying Doctor Service (who help people all over Australia reach the medical treatment they need) and the Rural Women GP Service, who service women in secluded areas. The program we create will be a combination of the two, focussing on Indigenous infant and maternal health. We are in dire need of a program to service pregnant Indigenous women in impoverished states. This Disadvantaged Indigenous Service will do just that. This p rogram will provide monthly support for pregnant women, along with access to necessary medicines and safe births. In doing this, we are assuring that their children have healthy futures, physically and mentally. A program similar to this one was done in bo th the U.K and the US. The Healthy Start program, employed in America, focuses on teaching expecting mothers the best way to care for their child, providing medical services and, eventually, public education for their

infant. The Disadvantaged Indigenous Service will be open to all underprivileged women, but focuses largely on the Indigenous. A lot of Indigenous mothers suffer from breakdowns or depression during pregnancy because many have no-one to talk to. With our Women s Support Group, we can change that. This program will allow Indigenous women to always have someone to talk to, someone they can relate to. The workers will provide support during and after pregnancy, helping mothers cope with the stress of children. Another successful program related to this one is Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond. This program provides services for pregnant women whilst they carry their baby and as their child grows up. They provide much support and help thousands of women have easy births. I believe these three programs would dramatically improve the health amongst Indigenous babies and their mothers and would demolish the risk factors associated with them.

Bibliography uly_2009V5.pdf