A program to improve the health of mothers and babies in Cape York is proving extremely popular and is encouraging women to engage with antenatal care, the NACCHO Summit heard yesterday.
The Apunipima baby basket program provides information and support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their families, reports John Thompson-Mills.
Popular programs starts the focus on health as early as possible
John Thompson-Mills writes:
In barely three years the Apunipima Cape York Health Council’s Baby Basket Program has proven so popular, there’s not enough staff to deal with demand.
Already, nearly one thousand baskets have been handed to mums-to-be and new mums in 10 of the 11 communities serviced by Apunipima.
The five maternal/child health workers, four health practitioners and eight child health nurses/midwives, must cover around 140,000 square kilometres to meet the needs of approximately 2,500 children.
Around 160 babies are born each year to mothers with an average age of 25. Nearly a quarter of the mothers are under 19. Fifty percent of pregnant women are classified as high risk, and 67% of them report smoking during pregnancy.
But there’s good news amongst the gloom, with Apunipima’s Baby Basket Program leading the way towards healthier babies and better-informed parents.
Nearly 90% of the Cape’s pregnant Aboriginal women attend five or more antenatal visits, and the popularity of the Baby Basket program continues to rise.
In its first year (2010), with assistance from the Royal Flying Doctor Service, 101 baskets were handed out. Last year the figure was 376.
By the end of June this year, another 195 baskets were helping young mothers pick up the knowledge they need for pregnancy, birth and infancy.
The program actually hands out three baskets, one on the first available antenatal visit, one at 36 weeks and the final one when the baby is six months old.
The goods in each basket reflect the point in the pregnancy, so the second one contains things like nappies, wipes and creams. There’s a baby sleeper in the first basket.
Pregnant women across Cape York have to travel to Cairns when they’re 36 weeks pregnant. They stay there until their baby is born. Once they leave hospital, they receive regular home visits, because in tandem with the Baby Basket program is a 12-week Home Visit program.
Led by local health care workers in conjunction with nurses and midwives, pregnant women get four antenatal visits, another while in Cairns and seven from birth until two years of age.
The post-delivery visits help educate mums about a huge list of issues such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, breastfeeding, the role of fathers and families, infant milestones, nutrition and development. Home-safety, immunisation and the importance of play are another three teaching points.
Because Cape York is so remote, food in the communities is horrendously expensive. Half a pumpkin can cost as much as $8, so Apunipima also hand out food vouchers that can’t be redeemed for cash.
It’s hoped these will help reduce the incidence of gestational diabetes that affect eight percent of Cape York mums.
It’s also hoped that Apunipima will soon have the resources to offer its Maternal Programs service to all 11 communities in Cape York.
To ensure that the Baby Basket program remains relevant, it is regularly reviewed. There’s an evaluation form with each basket, which is used to audit the program.
There is no obligation to join the Baby Basket program but with demand continuing to stretch Apunipima’s resources to breaking point, it suggests another part of the health gap is gradually being closed.
For previous Croakey reports from the Summit