Child Mortality Data Liquid Gold for Health Policymakers.
The detailed data on Australian infant and child mortality produced this week by the National Health Performance Authority is liquid gold for health policymakers, the Australian Women’s Health Network (AWHN) claims. Not only are surprising variations in mortality rates revealed but the report also provides information on low birth weight, smoking during pregnancy and access to antenatal care. Such fine-tuned data has not been available previously and it owes its appearance to the capacity of Medicare Locals the existence of a National Health Performance Authority.
“Whatever institutional changes are made in the health field in future, it is the essential that local organisations with the capacity to facilitate localised data collection continue to exist and that we maintain national overview organisations concerned with data collection, efficiency and preventive population health approaches, such as the National Health Performance Authority”, Dr Gwen Gray, AWHN Deputy Chairperson said today.
The study shows surprising variations in child mortality rates across the country, variations that policymakers could not have anticipated. For example, it is shown that there is enormous variation in child death rates even within wealthy communities and that birth weight varies by up to 5 times in socio-economically similar communities.
Among the findings that are not surprising is that there is a strong relationship between access to prenatal care early in pregnancies and positive infant and child health outcomes. “International research demonstrates convincingly that midwife led maternity care arrangements in which women are followed and supported throughout their pregnancies and in the period afterwards results in child health better outcomes” a spokeswoman said. Such primary health care systems operate in many countries, including New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada, all of which have lower infant mortality rates than Australia.
Another unsurprising finding is that Aboriginal children have far higher mortality rates than non-Aboriginal children, a situation that needs to be addressed urgently by policymakers in consultation with Indigenous communities.
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