Across the globe maternal health is in crisis. At Dili General Hospital Timor-Leste, a child a day dies a preventable death. Here at home, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women die in childbirth at three times the national average and are twice as likely to lose their babies in birth. Throughout Australia, rates of postnatal depression are on the rise. This is an issue not just for the developing world but a growing local crisis. Statistical data and case reports from wealthy and impoverished nations paint an increasingly disturbing picture. In maternity care systems worldwide the safety of mothers and babies is being compromised, hourly, daily, routinely.
Every minute of every day, a woman dies of pregnancy and childbirth related complications, totalling more than one half million women each year.
This crisis grows in the face of policy decisions that consistently direct resources away from maternal and child health. But fixing it is possible. What is needed is greater investment in maternal care – more resources, and more informed policies that take account of the social determinants of maternal health – the factors we now know most influence maternal and child health outcomes
The foundations for health are laid early in life and are influenced by genetic, behavioural and environmental factors. Most women in Australia have access to high level antenatal, birth and post natal care resulting in positive outcomes for both mother and baby. Unfortunately, for groups who experience disadvantage such as; young women; women with a disability; women with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; and Aboriginal and Torrres Strait Islander women the experience can be a vastly different.
For example, the perinatal death rate of babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers in 2007 was twice that of other babies. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers tend to be younger than other mothers in Australia, with one in 5 (19.5%) Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander mother being teenagers, compared with 3.5% of the overall population of mothers. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies are much more likely to be preterm and of low birth weight than those born to other mothers in Australia. In 2007, 13.7% of babies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers were classified as preterm compared with 7.9% of babies of non-Aboriginal mothers.