Indigenous midwives march to close the gap

27 April 2017

Indigenous midwives will gather and march in Redfern to highlight the need to close the gap in healthcare in Indigenous communities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwives led by Leona McGrath, Indigenous Health advisor, NSW Government and Dr Donna Hartz from the National Centre for Cultural Competence at the University of Sydney will walk through Redfern on 5 May to celebrate International Day for the Midwife and highlight a number of key issues in the sector.

Dr Hartz says there is a greater need for Indigenous midwives due to the significantly higher mortality rate for Indigenous mothers and babies.

“We have really embarrassingly poor outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and babies here in Australia in 2017,” says Dr Hartz.

“We have women dying at three times the rate of non-Indigenous women. We have Indigenous babies dying at twice the rate and we have babies being born prematurely or at a low birth weight at nearly twice the rate of non-Indigenous babies.

“The current rates of preterm and low birth weight babies means that many babies are predisposed to chronic diseases later in life. When we have Indigenous women caring for Indigenous women in childbirth, the outcomes improve for both mother and baby.”

Currently 50 per cent of Indigenous women live where there are no local birth services. Dr Hartz says the training of Aboriginal midwives is crucial to providing culturally sensitive care to Indigenous mothers.

“We’ve had closing of maternity services from rural, regional and remote areas which has meant that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have to travel hundreds and hundreds of kilometres to receive care.

“In terms of spirituality, tradition and culture, the women are Birthing off Country – Birth on Country is of great spiritual significance to have connection to Country. What we’re hoping through programs of training midwives is to bolster maternity services back in the communities so women can have care and give birth closer to their homes,” she says.

Only one per cent of Australian midwives are of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background whereas six per cent of all Australian births are Indigenous. A further 618 Indigenous midwives are required for parity.

“On International Day of the Midwife for the first time in Australia we're going to have the biggest gathering of Aboriginal midwives in one event. I think it will speak loudly to how we feel about healing our communities and training more midwives.”

Organisers of the march invite interested parties to “Walk with Midwives” in aid of an Australian College of Midwives campaign that aims to raise funds for the Rhodanthe Lipsete Trust. The Trust aims to increase the number of Indigenous midwives.

The University of Sydney campaign is supported by the National Centre for Cultural Competence, the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses & Midwives and the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health.

Indigenous Midwifery facts:

- There are only 230 Indigenous midwives nationally; a further 618 are needed

- Indigenous mothers are three times as likely to die as their non-Indigenous counterparts

- Indigenous babies up until the age of one are twice as likely to die as non-indigenous children

- 50 per cent of mothers live where there are no local birth services, forcing them to give birth off country

Elliott Richardson

Assistant Media Advisor (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)

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