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Maternity services redesigned for First Nations women

More than 250 representatives from First Nations communities, health services, universities and research institutes, will join together in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) to explore the scope for system-wide reform to secure the ‘best start to life’ for First Nations babies and their families.

The 2022 Best Start to Life Conference: a national gathering in Mparntwe is being co-hosted by Molly Wardagugu Research Centre, Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC) to improve maternity services for First Nations communities and, ultimately, reduce maternal health inequities in the Northern Territory.

The event includes a panel of First Nations leaders: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar, Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians and Indigenous Health Malarndirri McCarthy and Federal Member for Lingiari Marion Scrymgour.

These panelists will discuss the health inequities facing First Nations mothers and babies that stem from structural barriers and how these can be addressed, and clinically safe birthing as a human right reflected in public policy, among other topics as part of the three-day event.

Molly Wardaguga Research Centre (MWRC) Co-Director and CDU Professor of Midwifery Sue Kildea said the conference is about embedding a shared vision of pregnancy and childbirth for First Nations people.

“This shared vision is focused on an appropriate transition to motherhood and parenting for women and an integrated, holistic and culturally appropriate model of care,” Professor Kildea said.

CDU MWRC Co-Director and Indigenous Health Professor Yvette Roe said the gathering seeks to advance the work of First Nations communities to deliver maternity services that acknowledge the importance of First Nations values, knowledge systems and leadership.

“A key outcome of the gathering will be a strategic roadmap for the redesign of maternity services for future generations,” Professor Roe said.

CAAC CEO Dr Donna Ah Chee has advocated for safe birthing services for all Aboriginal women for many years.

“Safe birthing is a human right. This means adequate birthing services where they live, prioritising both their cultural and clinical safety,” Dr Ah Chee said.

“This major gathering will highlight the existing barriers and, importantly, showcase how Aboriginal community-controlled services are fundamental in providing an integrated system of care and they should be funded to close the health inequities.”

First Nations women have birthed their babies on ancestral lands for more than 60,000 years, and the event provides opportunity for reflection and review since the second conference is returning to Alice Springs after 10 years. The previous conference in 2012 was presented by the Australian Maternity Services Interjurisdictional Committee and CAAC. 

CDU researchers Associate Professor Ḻäwurrpa Maypilama and Dr Sarah Ireland, in partnership with the Australian Doula College and the Yalu (Nest) Aboriginal Corporation, developed a pilot program to train First Nations women to become djäkamirr (caretakers of pregnancy and birth).

It led to the award-winning Djäkamirr film, which increased awareness of health inequities in First Nations childbirth and promoted change in maternity services for First Nations people.

The first day of the conference on Monday, October 10, features a special women’s welcome to Central Arrernte Country and walk at a sacred women’s place – Kepelye Arntaye (Jessie Gap), followed by a Djäkamirr documentary screening at CDU’s Alice Springs campus.

The three-day event combines plenaries, workshops and presentations. View the full program here

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