A ‘hidden tragedy’: Government pledges further support for stillbirth

Amanda Lyons

4/07/2019 2:57:51 PM

The Federal Government has responded to a report on stillbirth with a promise of additional funding and research.

Support for stillbirth.
Rates of stillbirth in Australia, which are 30 times higher than rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, have not changed for two decades.

Australia is among the safest of places in the world to give birth.
However, six babies a day are stillborn across the nation, making it Australia’s most common form of child mortality.
Stillbirth affects more than 2000 Australian families a year, occurring in one of every 137 women who reach 20 weeks of pregnancy. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience it at double the rate of non-Indigenous women.
Furthermore, rates of stillbirth in Australia – which are 30 times higher than Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – have remained the same for two decades.
But the subject remains shrouded in a culture of silence and stigma, often making it a hidden tragedy.
‘Our society finds it very difficult to talk about death and finds it very difficult to talk about intense emotion, and the death of a little baby or a child is such a painful and confronting area for people,’ Deborah de Wilde, a volunteer for Stillbirth Foundation Australia, said.
This silence and stigma can even extend to healthcare professionals, as Clare Rannard, a woman who experienced a stillbirth, discovered.
‘Instead of feeling included, I felt a strong sense of being kept in the dark at arm’s length,’ she said.
‘How can I trust a patriarchal healthcare system with a future pregnancy when it appears to prioritise silence over transparent communication?’
Stillbirth research and education, a report conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education for discussion in Parliament’s second sitting this year, made 16 recommendations towards the future of stillbirth research and education.
These ranged from boosting numbers of perinatal pathologists to developing a national continuity of care model aimed at reducing the stillbirth rate in Australia, particularly among groups of higher risk.
The Federal Government has agreed or agreed in principle with all 16 of the report’s recommendations, and that it would be providing additional funding and support towards efforts to reduce stillbirth rates in Australia.
These efforts will include: 

  • development of a National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan
  • investment in stillbirth research
  • development of best practice, culturally appropriate resources for health professionals, parents and families
  • improvement across the states and territories of perinatal mortality data collections and culturally and linguistically appropriate models of care.
Government investment will include $52.4 million in perinatal services and support, including $43.9 million in grants for organisations that focus on perinatal mental health support, perinatal loss and bereavement peer support.
‘Reducing the rate of stillbirth in Australia, including providing the best possible support services for families living with the tragedy of stillbirth, is a Government health and wellbeing priority,’ Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
The Federal Opposition indicated its support for the Government response, making it clear this is a bipartisan issue.
‘There is nothing that can be done to ease the pain for those families who have gone through the trauma and are living with the grief of a stillbirth,’ Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen said.
‘We must take action now and continue to work together to prevent stillbirth so we can save babies' lives.’

Maternity care Pregnancy Stillbirth

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