Health professionals and organisations will receive additional training and resources to help support Indigenous women quit smoking during pregnancy under a new multi-million dollar initiative being funded by the Australian Government Department of Health
Led by renowned smoking cessation expert, Associate Professor Gillian Gould, the initiative will enable health practitioners who treat a pregnant woman in any medical capacity to complete an online training module and access a range of tailored treatment materials.
With smoking in pregnancy having a major impact on the lifelong health of mother and child, including birth complications and low birth weight, Associate Professor Gould said quitting smoking early in pregnancy would help to close the gap on Indigenous health.
“It’s imperative that Indigenous women have good access to smoking cessation services as 43 per cent of Indigenous women smoke. Essentially, we’re trying to ensure that Indigenous people have the same health outcomes as non-Indigenous people and we need to start before they’re born,” Associate Professor Gould said.
As a general practitioner and researcher with the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI)*, Associate Professor Gould said the iSISTAQUIT (Supporting Indigenous Smokers to Assist Quitting) initiative would help to provide a culturally sensitive and consistent approach to delivering better care across the country.
“Nothing like this is currently available and there are many systematic barriers that prevent women from accessing medical or antenatal care, which is a problem as it means women may present later than usual during their pregnancy,” Associate Professor Gould said.
“We want to start the conversation about smoking as early as possible and found that many general practitioners and obstetricians lack the confidence or skills to provide this specialised type of knowledge.
“Some women also receive mixed messages about the safety of quitting smoking or using nicotine replacement therapy during their pregnancy, so this initiative will bring health providers up to speed with the latest evidence-based treatment methods.”
Building on lessons and findings from a separate pilot program, also led by Associate Professor Gould, iSISTAQUIT will feature online training via webinars that are self-paced, along with hard copy material such as a treatment manual and patient booklet.
“Many of the resources were developed during the pilot program and trialled across six states, so we’ve adapted them slightly and made them suitable for online delivery,” Associate Professor Gould said.
“Our pilot study revealed that 41 per cent of participants made quit attempts and the resources resulted in a quit rate of 14 per cent and increased engagement between Indigenous women and services.
“Ideally we want these resources to be available to all health practitioners and will look to disseminate them through our existing networks across Aboriginal services, professional colleges and bodies, primary health networks, obstetricians, hospital departments and other medical services throughout Australia when they become available.”
On April 4, 2019 the Department of Health awarded $3,891,801 to the initiative, from the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program. The national development of iSISTAQUIT will commence in the next few months from a newly-established centre in Coffs Harbour.
* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.