Every woman in Australia has the right to safe, affordable maternity services as close to home as possible. This is something most people would agree with - and something that is within the nation’s power to deliver.
But in recent years more than half of Australia’s small maternity units, many of them in rural areas, have been closed. This Sunday, Mother’s Day, is a timely reminder of the importance of maternal and child health. This is vital for mothers everywhere in Australia, for their babies and children, and ultimately for the health of the nation.
Over time, the number of procedural GPs in rural areas has been falling, while the number of rural women giving birth has been increasing. Also significant is the fact that the prevalence of midwives decreases with distance from capital cities, while the birth rate increases. Money can be saved in the short term by closing small rural maternity units, but this transfers cash costs to families and also imposes costs on mothers and babies through increased risk and family dislocation. Stress in pregnancy has a detrimental effect on mother and baby.
Mothers’ health is an important determinant of the health and wellbeing of children and communities. So this Sunday let’s remember the mothers who live in rural and remote areas of this country. They face the challenges of distance, isolation, poorer health and worse access to health services than women in the cities - and so often with their renowned fortitude and resilience.
Some of the steps towards improved maternal health in rural and remote Australia are spelled out in the National Maternity Services Plan, 2010-2015, endorsed by State, Territory and Commonwealth Governments. The Plan’s goal is to maintain Australia’s standard of safety and quality in maternity care and to improve access to services and choice of models of care.
For more information on maternal health, see the National Rural Health Alliance website www.ruralhealth.org.au where you can find Fact Sheet 25, Rural Maternity Services: Investing in the Future, just updated this month, and Fact Sheet 31, Women’s Health in Rural Australia.
Lesley Barclay - Chair: 0412 282 801