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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 231

Senator Allison asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 10 January 2005:

(1)   Is the Minister aware that the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s bulletin ‘Australia’s babies: their health and wellbeing’ identifies that, despite reductions in the overall proportion of infant deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants continue to die from SIDS (16.6 per cent) than do other infants (9.3 per cent).

(2)   Given the campaigns to promote the established risk-reducing behaviours have been extremely effective in reducing the overall mortality from SIDS, what plans does the Government have to devise and evaluate innovative methods for delivering these messages and changing behaviour among Indigenous groups in order to reduce the tragically high number of deaths.

Senator Patterson (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   Yes.

(2)   In 1991, the National SIDS Council of Australia’s public education campaign ‘Reducing the Risk of Cot Deaths’ was instrumental in dramatically reducing the number of cot deaths in Australia. Such campaigns however have not had the same impact on reducing the rates of SIDS in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Funding of $7 million over five years from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) will support collaborative research grants with the potential to improve child and maternal health of Indigenous people. As a part of its Healthy Start to Life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians Research Initiative, a number of research grant projects will examine SIDS in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

With funding contributions from the Department of Health and Ageing, the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Kulunga Research Network have recently published the first volume of The Health of Aboriginal Children and Young People to inform the knowledge base regarding what children and young people need to develop in healthy ways. The publication highlights tobacco smoking as influencing the higher SIDS rates amongst Indigenous infants.

The Network also manages the Bibbulung Gnarneep - Building Solid Kids Project, a study of a cohort of mothers during pregnancy and their babies during the first two years of life, looking at SIDS risk factors and other defining health issues. A second phase involves home visiting to provide access to medical appointments and regular antenatal checks, information and education (reducing the risk of SIDS) and to provide cultural support and advocacy.

Evidence suggests that antenatal and related population health programs, provided as a component of comprehensive primary health care, can reduce complications of pregnancy, the incidence of low birth-weight and perinatal deaths. Given the unacceptably high rates of infant mortality (including SIDS) and morbidity, the incidence of low birth weight and poor early growth in Indigenous babies and the short and long-term health implications of these factors, improving access to antenatal, maternal and child health programs is a priority. Specific funding has been provided for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) for this purpose. Examples of successful programs include Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Services (in Queensland) and Nganampa Health Council (in South Australia) who have demonstrated significant improvements in maternal and infant health outcomes. ACCHSs are also a good source of information and support for parents, providing referrals and support to access organisations such as SIDS and Kids.

In August 2003, SIDS and Kids signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) to jointly address the issue of SIDS in Indigenous communities. The Department’s Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health subsequently provided funding of $49,500 to support a joint project involving SIDS and Kids. The project will develop a resource containing SIDS support contact information and evidence based prevention messages, particularly in relation to safe sleeping advice. This resource will be disseminated throughout the sector.