Areas with highest rates of child deaths and pregnant smokers revealed
Young children are up to three times more likely to die depending on where they live and women are up to 18 times more likely to smoke while pregnant in some areas.
A National Health Performance Authority report released today is the first in Australia to break down by local area: infant and child death rates, smoking during pregnancy, the percentage of low-birthweight babies and women who had at least one antenatal visit in their first trimester.
While rates of infant and young child deaths have fallen dramatically in recent years, Australia’s rate is still three times higher than that of the best-performing OECD countries. Today’s report highlights areas where improvements are possible in child and maternal health.
Results are shown for 2009–2012 for more than 60 local areas across Australia, called Medicare Local catchments. To enable fair comparisons, catchments are allocated into peer groups based on their location and socioeconomic characteristics.
The report finds the rate of low-birthweight babies is more than double in some areas of Australia compared to others. Women were also more than twice as likely to receive antenatal care in their first trimester of pregnancy in some local areas compared to others.
The report reveals:
- The lowest rate of infant and young child death was in Bayside (Vic) (2.6 deaths per 1,000 live births), while the highest rate was in the Northern Territory (9.2 deaths per 1,000 live births)
- The percentage of all women who smoked while pregnant ranged from 1.8% in Sydney North Shore & Beaches up to 33.1% in Far West NSW
- In wealthier metropolitan areas the percentage of women who smoked while pregnant ranged from 1.8% in Sydney North Shore & Beaches up to 10.2% in the Australian Capital Territory. In regional areas this ranged from 14.0% in Barwon (Vic) and Illawarra-Shoalhaven (NSW) up to 26.5% in Wide Bay (Qld).
Results for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and their babies were generally less favourable than for non-Indigenous mothers and babies across all measures of child and maternal health reported. For example, the percentage of women who smoked while pregnant ranged from 29.4% in Macedon Ranges and North Western Melbourne up to 66.4% in Goulburn Valley (Vic). Yet some local areas with high rates of antenatal visits in the first trimester show what is possible to achieve.
The report also highlights a number of local areas which stand out within their peer group. For example, Nepean-Blue Mountains (NSW), Barwon (Vic) and Goulburn Valley (Vic) are middle to lower-income regional areas with infant and young child death rates better than many high-income metropolitan areas.
National Health Performance Authority CEO Dr Diane Watson said reporting at a local level identifies local areas where improvements in child and maternal health should be targeted and local areas that demonstrated what's possible.
"These results empower health system managers and local communities to target their efforts to drive child and maternal health programs for the benefit of all families," Dr Watson said.
The Healthy Communities: Child and maternal health in 2009–2012 report is available at www.myhealthycommunities.gov.au
Information in the report related to smoking during pregnancy, low-birthweight babies and antenatal visits in the first trimester may not be fully comparable across states and territories. Data collection practices may vary.