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Access to fetal anomaly screening in the Northern Territory: Views of Indigenous women and their health care providers



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11 October 2010

National antenatal care guidelines recommend that all Australian women are offered screening tests for Down syndrome and other abnormalities in early pregnancy. However, there are large regional differences in the uptake of screening, with the Northern Territory (NT) having the lowest uptake of all jurisdictions in Australia (17% in the NT compared with 80% in some other states such as South Australia). This research uses qualitative methods to explore:

•    the challenges nurses, midwives and doctors face when explaining fetal anomaly screening across language and culture; and
•    a range of Indigenous women’s perspectives including their preferences for when and how information should be communicated.

Over sixty five in depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with Indigenous women, their families and their health care providers in remote and urban communities across the NT. The findings illustrate the logistical challenges associated with providing equitable antenatal care in remote areas. However, even when logistical barriers were not a problem the practice of offering genetic testing varied widely depending on the values of the provider and the characteristics of the client (including their age, education, language, risk factors and assertiveness). We present an illustrated educational resource designed to improve communication and facilitate informed decision making about fetal anomaly screening for Indigenous women in the Northern Territory and elsewhere.

Presented by Dr. Kayli Wild - PhD, MPH, BSc, Project Manager, Menzies School of Health Research