A government initiative to help smokers kick the habit is changing lives for the better in Aboriginal communities across the state.
The New South Wales Health Department is backing the Quit For New Life (QFNL) program that has been running since January 2013 but is coming towards the end of its four-year state government funding.
The program aims to close the gap in smoking rates to give Aboriginal children the best start in life.
Nicole Tindale, QFNL coordinator for the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, said Aboriginal health workers along with social workers, occupational therapists and Doctors had been trained to implement the program.
“Smoking during the pregnancy increases the risk of obstetric and infant complications including still birth, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome,” she said.
An estimated 45 per cent of Aboriginal women smoke during pregnancy compared to just 7.4 per cent of non-Aboriginal women a NSW Health study has found. Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0-14, 57 per cent live with at least one parent that is a smoker, compared to just 26 per cent for non-Aboriginal children.
Mrs Tindale said the program was free across NSW for all pregnant indigenous women.
“This includes non-Aboriginal pregnant women with Aboriginal partners, as well as those who have recently given birth to an Aboriginal baby,” she said.
“We also offer the program to partners and other close family members, to support the mothers in their efforts to quit and to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke in the home.”
Antenatal clinics in a range of hospitals across the state are implementing the program. Midwives, child and family health workers and Aboriginal health workers provide clients with education about the risks of smoking while pregnant and the benefits of quitting for both the mother and their child. They are offered referral to the Aboriginal Quitline, free nicotine replacement therapy products, and follow-up support with a specialist QFNL Aboriginal worker.
In the 2014-2015 financial year, the program reached 53 per cent of eligible women that attended participating antenatal clinics.
“There have been some great success stories with women and their family members quitting together and staying smoke-free since the birth of their child”, Ms Tindale said.
But there have also been some challenges with the program that has seen its impact not be as fruitful as first hoped. In some cases, women have been able to quit during pregnancy but then regress to smoking after giving birth due to other health issues and additional life stresses.
The program is a gradual process and not an initiative that sees success overnight. It will continue to take time and patience for the NSW Health Department to deem this program a success.
Mrs Tindale said that staff in NSW Health facilities will need to focus on building rapport with mothers and families before offering the program as well as seeking input from Aboriginal representatives in local communities.
That said, 1569 women and family members have taken up the program since 2013, so there is promise and excitement that the program can flourish if funding is continued past 2018.