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Southern Cross receives $3.5m Birthing on Country grant to improve Indigenous midwifery services and quit smoking program

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2 June 2023

Imagine being 38 weeks pregnant and having to leave your family and community behind to travel hundreds of kilometres to get the care you and your baby will need for the birth. Though far from ideal, this is the reality many Aboriginal women in remote communities face when it’s time to have their babies – and it’s something Southern Cross University and its partner organisations are committed to changing.

Southern Cross University has secured a $3.558 million grant from the Department of Health and Aged Care to collaboratively scope and design an innovative program for Birthing on Country with three Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

The Indigenous Australians’ Health Programme - Workforce and Maternity Services Grant will include help for Aboriginal mums-to-be to quit smoking.

The project will be led by Professor Gillian Gould and Australia’s first Aboriginal Obstetrics and Gynaecology specialist, Dr Marilyn Clarke, both from the University’s Faculty of Health.

“I’m very excited to be part of this successful research grant, which will allow the Birthing on Country movement in Australia to be further explored and integrated with culturally competent smoking cessation care.” said Dr Clarke.

Professor Gould leads iSISTAQUIT, a program for pregnant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who are wanting to quit smoking.

“We know that Birthing on Country has a very powerful impact on Aboriginal women, and that quitting smoking is one of the most important things they can do for their own health and the health of their babies,” said Professor Gould.

“Coupling the already successful iSISTAQUIT program with a long-term plan to facilitate safe Birthing on Country will create a holistic pre-natal health plan for Aboriginal women living remotely.”

The program has three main objectives: to scope Birthing on Country, to tailor the iSISTAQUIT program to local communities and to boost the number of graduating Aboriginal midwives through an increase in scholarships and opportunities.

“Southern Cross University has significant experience in health promotion and health services research,” said Professor Mary Spongberg, Southern Cross University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Academic Capability).

“It’s great to see University research at the service of better outcomes for Indigenous women and their babies.”

Southern Cross University has a highly regarded Midwifery program at its Coffs Harbour and Gold Coast campuses, with the provision of culturally appropriate care part of the curriculum.

“Birthing on Country encompasses a holistic view of the woman's journey to motherhood, and recognises the importance of Indigenous ways of knowing,” says Dr Clarke.

“Southern Cross University, with its iSISTAQUIT program and midwifery degree, is ideally placed to play a role in this exciting research.”

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