Every year, somewhere between 150 and 200 babies are born on Cape York Peninsula. Hang on – that’s not right. They’re born into Cape York families – but those babies are born in Cairns. Queensland Health requires pregnant mothers to head to Cairns at around 36 weeks into their pregnancy – especially mothers thought to be at high risk of medical complications in the late stages of pregnancy and during birth. The current thinking is it’s better to have births at far north Queensland’s biggest hospital, eliminating the need for a late emergency medical evacuation to Cairns if things start to go wrong.
It may be sound medical reasoning, but it can be a real hardship for indigenous women. Despite support schemes and subsidies, the temporary move to Cairns can be costly, lonely, a real disconnect from the extended family support at home. And it tends to further entrench an attitude about health care – that it’s somehow separate from the daily lives of indigenous people. We understand Queensland Health is considering introducing birth facilities at one Cape York hospital, not eliminating the need to leave home but reducing the physical & cultural distance.
During pregnancy and after the birth of their child, Cape York indigenous mums are supported by services provided by various organisations, including Apunipima Cape York Health Council. http://www.apunipima.org.au/ Its teams realise that the much used “close the gap” health slogan can only have meaning if health care is present in remote indigenous communities, and is delivered in socially and culturally appropriate ways.
Rachel Sargeant leads the Apunipima Maternal & Child Health team. She works closely with her indigenous colleague, Daphne De Jersey, the Apunipima child & maternal health worker in Mapoon on north-west Cape York. There are many challenges – high rates of smoking and drinking during pregnancy, STIs, gestational diabetes, and more. But Daphne, Rachel and their colleagues are making headway.