• The Federal Government has announced $27 million to improve the health of Indigenous mums and babies (SBS)Source: SBS
Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt has announced $27 million to improve the health of babies and mothers.
21 Feb 2017 - 3:40 PM  UPDATED 22 Feb 2017 - 10:24 AM

Indigenous health services across the country have welcomed the extra $27 million for programs to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and mothers. 

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chair, Matthew Cooke, said funding Indigenous led solutions is critical to making significant gains in closing the Indigenous health gap, including reversing the slide in infant mortality rates. 

“Maternal and early childhood health programs that are culturally appropriate, co-ordinated and delivered by Aboriginal health professionals working on the ground in local communities are essential to giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children the best possible start in life,” Mr Cooke said.

CEO of the Townsville Aboriginal and Islanders Health Services (TAIHS), Kathy Anderson, also welcomed the extra funding. 

"It means we can offer services to more people. Our biggest restriction is our workforce and capacity to provide these services," she told NITV. 

TAIHS has expanded its service deliver to regional areas in Queensland, including Palm Island. 

"It means we can provide new services to Palm Island where it is very much needed, it is critical for on the ground services. They have a greater number of low birth weight babies, less access to services and this will have a massive impact." 

Ms Anderson says 80 per cent of TAIHS clients are Indigenous. 

"We service around 50 per cent of the Townsville community, the majority is Indigenous about 80% and a third of those are children aged 0-5years as well as up to 14 years, and our clients are growing."

"Maternal child health is vital. The sector has seen decreases in low birth weight babies, an increase in the number of antenatal services, and having access to these services are providing strong, measurable outcomes."

The federal government is putting almost $30 million into improving the health of Indigenous babies and their mothers following last week's bleak Closing the Gap report.

Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt announced on Tuesday the $27 million boost for child and maternal health programs, to be spent over the next 18 months.

It will go toward services like antenatal and postnatal care, breastfeeding assistance, health and development checks and ensuring children are properly immunised.

The services will be delivered by providers across NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia.

"These targeted grants will help improve the health and life expectancy, as well as early childhood health and development, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through better access to effective and high-quality health services," Mr Wyatt said.

Mr Wyatt says the new funding will help current services but equally will allow them to expand to reach as many mothers as possible. 

"Particularly young teenage mothers being captured in the program and ensure that they're healthy and that they’ve got the levels of emotional support, and when their babies are born they get the right parenting advice and the right advice about caring for their child," he told NITV. 

He said services will be delivered in culturally appropriate ways. 

"It's about cultural appropriateness in terms of comfortability. People who are happy to go a service because it's understanding of their needs, their circumstance in which they live. Organisations that provide these services know their community, they know the families and they know the level of support that are available, and they help the journey of a patient or a mother and child when they need tertiary hospital care."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tabled the ninth annual report into Indigenous health, education and employment outcomes in parliament last week, describing the findings as sad and disappointing.

The target to improve life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 2031 was not on track to be met, nor was a target to halve the gap in child mortality by 2018.

Mr Wyatt says Indigenous-owned and controlled health organisations and services are critical to helping Close the Gap. 

"They understand their community, they know the family kinships, they know the support within the community but also provide a level of comfortability that’s free from discrimination, particularly people who have experienced it. But also they know what is needed to help close that gap and provide the levels of intervention at the right times because they are immersed within the community, they know the community." 

Related reading
Stress research could close the Indigenous health gap
A ground breaking study into stress levels could fast-track the closing of the health gap, according to experts.
Calls for Wyatt to take action, as study reveals health inequality for Indigenous kids
A leading health organisation has urged Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt to take action, after a study found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids were three times more likely to be admitted to intensive care units (ICU) for severe infections.