The lack of funding for a specialised Indigenous-led birthing unit could further delay decreasing infant mortality rates, according to the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council.

Closing the Gap targets, which also include improving the healthy birth weight of Indigenous newborns and lowering the incidents of premature births, have remained persistently short of targets despite various initiatives over the past 13 years.

But, it’s hoped, a proposed Birthing on Country (BiOC) centre on the South Coast of NSW would allow Indigenous women to make personalised, informed choices about their birth process under the care of Indigenous clinical staff.

The AH&MRC said despite receiving written support over a three-year period from NSW Minister for Health, and the chief executive of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, no funding has been allocated.

“The support that’s been shown for the Waminda Birthing and Community Hub so far is great, but we need this to translate into actual resourcing that creates real outcomes,” says AH&MRC CEO Robert Skeen. “There’s no good reason why this hasn’t occurred to date.”

The AH&MRC reaffirmed their commitment to providing Waminda with the support needed to receive adequate funding for a specialised birthing unit on the South Coast.

“It is so important that women birthing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies have choice and have access to culturally appropriate services,” said Mr Skeen.

Current statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show 11 per cent of all Indigenous babies are born underweight despite only making up 6 per cent of all babies born.

The more I talk about it, the madder I get… I just don’t know if we’re being heard.

A key focus of the current Closing the Gap targets is 91 per cent of Indigenous babies be born with a healthy birth weight by 2031. Waminda’s current maternity care model shows 50 of 52 babies born under the BiOC program met these markers.

“Aboriginal women have been doing this since time immemorial,” said Dharawal and Gumbaynggirr woman and Waminda midwife Mel Briggs. “We need to be central to those discussions when it comes to maternity models of care because we know what works for our women.”

Waminda currently provides BiOC services to women at Shoalhaven Hospital, however, COVID restrictions have limited their capacity to care for women who want to give birth at home or out of the Shoalhaven area.

“We get a lot of women from out of area requesting our services and unfortunately women who are not booked into Shoalhaven Hospital… we’re unable to provide the whole service,” said Ms Briggs. “We’re getting referrals pretty much every day now.”

Despite the success of Waminda’s program, the lack of funding for a birthing unit is placing a strain on the midwives at the centre.

“We’ve been working on this for years and nothing. The more I talk about it, the madder I get,” said Ms Briggs. “I just don’t know if we’re being heard.”

The centre has raised $42,000 via GoFundMe and fundraising by the centre for the estimated $38 million project.

Main picture of Shoalhaven District Memorial Hospital by Grace Stranger