Why community clinics are so important for Australia's pregnant migrant women

Mother Roda Kenyi, her baby Vanessa and midwife Jacqueline Matyear. Source: SBS News

Pregnancy can be a challenging time for first-time mothers-to-be, especially for migrant and refugee woman in a new country. In one of Australia's growing multicultural centres, health authorities have established community clinics offering culturally-appropriate midwife care.

Sonja Makei, 24, has just arrived at the Redbank Plains Community Centre for one of her last check-ups before she has her first baby.

At 38 weeks, she tells SBS News she's had a smooth pregnancy so far, something she attributes to the strong, ongoing relationship with her midwife.

Sonja visits her midwife at the Redbank Plains Community Clinic
Sonja visits her midwife at the Redbank Plains Community Clinic.
SBS News

"She knows everything about you, she knows your history already and that's the best part of it,” Ms Makei says.

“It’s being able to see someone who knows you, and understands your circumstance."

Ms Makei, who is of Samoan background, is one of the hundreds of mothers-to-be who are choosing to visit this community centre in Redbank Plains - part of the greater West Moreton region in Queensland - rather than going to the hospital to see a doctor.

“After my first trip to the hospital I thought wow it's a far distance from where I live, and then as soon as they asked if I wanted to come to the community centre, I was really happy because it's literally a minute away, and it makes me feel comfortable as a mother to be,” she says.

Mum-to-be Sonja Makei and her midwife Natalie Poole
Mum-to-be Sonja Makei and her midwife Natalie Poole.
SBS News

Importance of culturally appropriate care

Pasifika and refugee communities are continuing to grow rapidly in the region, pushing local health authorities to provide culturally appropriate care.

The clinic has playgroups, food relief, financial councillors, as well as midwifery services.

West Moreton Health midwife, Natalie Poole, who is specifically trained in supporting Pasifika women, consults at the clinic every week. One of her patients is Sonja.

She told SBS News the clinic has been very successful because it gives patients continuity and confidence.

“There's a really large population of Pasifika women in the West Moreton area, and if we can offer better care that's more culturally appropriate to these women, by growing the service and providing more services, that would be ideal."

Since opening the Redbank community clinic just under two years ago, another has followed in nearby Goodna, welcoming more than 15,000 people through their doors, of which half were born overseas.

The clinic’s manager Rose Dash told SBS News providing midwifery services was a top priority.

“Many women who have come from overseas, they're not used to going to a hospital setting prior to birth, our hope is that we increase the number of women getting that proper antenatal care,” she said.

Language and cultural barriers

Language and cultural barriers, as well as a lack of accessibility, are some of the reasons migrant and refugee women are less likely to visit hospitals.

Multicultural Centre for Women's Health CEO, Dr Adele Murdolo told SBS News it often means they miss out on receiving important check-ups at key stages of the pregnancy.

Multicultural Centre for Women's Health CEO Dr Adele Murdolo
Multicultural Centre for Women's Health CEO Dr Adele Murdolo.
SBS News

"The Australian guidelines say that you should go within your first 10 weeks, not everybody knows that and particularly migrant women may not have access to that kind of information, about why you would go, and where to go. So I think accessibility is a huge issue."

Dr Murdolo said women from migrant and refugee backgrounds are also more likely to experience complications during pregnancy like gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia.

Community clinics a ‘winning combination’

She believes having community clinics which can provide a 'one-stop-shop' will help improve these outcomes.

"People who speak the language of the women, and are able to go out to where women live or where they work, that's a really winning combination."

Mothers and their midwives at the clinic
Mothers and their midwives at the clinic.
SBS News

South-Sudanese mother Roda Kenyi who went through her second pregnancy at the clinic said the experience was exponentially better.

"Getting a person that says 'I'm just working with this background' was really good, at least for us it felt like they do understand.”

New mum, Zian Janes-Paratene, agreed.

New mum Zian Janes-Paratene with 6-week-old baby Carter.
New mum Zian Janes-Paratene with 6-week-old baby Carter.
SBS News

"It's always going to be a memory for me that for my first pregnancy I had that good experience with my midwife."

As the region continues to grow, there are plans to provide more services and more clinics in the future.

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