Stillbirth CRE gets funding boost to extend reach and impact

Friday 02 September 2022

The pain of stillbirth does not discriminate, but statistics show some Australian communities carry a heavier burden of loss than others including First Nations women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, and refugee and migrant groups.

The Centre of Research Excellence for Stillbirth (Stillbirth CRE), based at Mater Research as a collaboration between Mater Research and The University of Queensland, has recently been given a $1.25 million boost to help educate and inform mothers and families from diverse backgrounds about stillbirth and prevention.

Stillbirth CRE Director Professor Vicki Flenady said the Federal Government funding was a welcome injection into the Centre’s important work.

“The CRE was integral in the development of the National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan (NSAIP), which has set an overarching goal of reducing the rate of stillbirth in Australia by 20 per cent within five years, and to ensure parents receive respectful and supportive bereavement care,” Professor Flenady said.

“This $1.25 million funding will allow us to address the gap in delivering culturally and linguistically appropriate education and awareness programs on stillbirth prevention and care for Indigenous, migrant and refugee women, and high-risk groups, including teenage mothers and those in rural and remote areas.

“Each of these communities has different needs and we want to offer them tailored resources that would be most helpful to them.”

More than 2,000 women and families are impacted by stillbirth each year.

According to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data there were 7.2 stillbirths per 1000 births in the general population in 2018, but that figure increased for Indigenous women (10.4/1000), and women born in Southern Asia (9.0/1000) and Africa (10.4/1000).

The stillbirth rate was also significantly higher in very remote areas where there were 14.4 stillbirths per 1000 births compared to in major cities (7.1/1000).

Professor Flenady said there were multifactorial and complex reasons for the disparity in the stillbirth rate.

“Indigenous women have more stillbirth risk factors such as higher rates of smoking, late antenatal care booking and non-attendance, and younger average maternal ages. Migrant and refugee women are hindered by unfamiliarity with healthcare systems, language barriers and sociocultural factors that limit access to stillbirth prevention information; and rural and remote women have poor access to health services.

“Poor outcomes in remote areas may also be due to the higher proportion of the population that is Indigenous.”

The “Reducing Stillbirth: Stillbirth Education and Awareness” program will be completed in partnership with several organisations working with First Nations people, CALD communities and refugee and migrant groups.

Professor Flenady said there would be a co-design approach to the project to ensure resources on stillbirth prevention had input from the communities it was aimed at helping.

“Our goal is to have community members, researchers and clinicians working collaboratively to design, conduct and deliver stillbirth prevention messages. This is the best way to ensure that the most effective methods are thoughtfully employed to get the most out of every valuable input from the communities,” she said.

“The program will also develop and design professional development programs for Aboriginal healthcare workers, interpreters and health professionals working with First Nations peoples; migrant and refugee groups (focusing on South Asian and African born women); rural and remote women; and their care providers and community leaders.”

Stillbirth CRE Senior Advisor for Indigenous Research, Deanna Stuart Butler has been leading the project.

She said it was widely known that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women had a disproportionate burden of stillbirth in Australia.

“We wanted to make sure this project set out to explore the experiences of having a sorry business baby from the perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their communities because we wanted to create a space for our women’s voices. For too long, our women have been shouting out on deaf ears,” she said.

The Stillbirth CRE funding is part of a $6.8 million package of targeted funding to help ease the grief of stillbirth for bereaved women and families.

Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearney said the Federal Government wanted women and families to be supported through this difficult time.

“Stillbirth and losing a baby is absolutely devastating,” she said.

“Tragically, women from First Nations and multicultural backgrounds have a higher rate of stillbirth. We want to make sure that women get the information and care they need from sources they trust, in culturally appropriate ways.”