The perinatal mortality rate among Indigenous Australians is still double that of the rest of the community. The aim of our study was to estimate the extent to which increased risk of low birthweight and preterm birth among Indigenous babies in Queensland account for their continuing mortality excess. If a large proportion of excess deaths can be explained by the unfavourable birthweight and gestational age distribution of Indigenous babies, then that would suggest that priority should be given to implementing primary health care interventions to reduce the risk of low birthweight and preterm birth (eg, interventions to reduce maternal smoking or genitourinary infections). Conversely, if only a small proportion is explained by birthweight and gestational age, then other strategies might need to be considered such as improving access to high-quality hospital care around the time of confinement.
Population-based, descriptive study of perinatal mortality rates among Indigenous and non-Indigenous babies, in Queensland, stratified by birthweight and gestational age.
Indigenous babies are twice as likely to die as their non-Indigenous counterparts (rate ratio1998–2002: 2.01; 95%ci 1.77, 2.28). However, within separate strata of birth weight and gestational age, Indigenous and non-Indigenous rates are similar. The Mantel-Haenszel rate ratio adjusted for birth weight and gestational age was 1.13 (0.99, 1.28). This means that most of the excess mortality in Indigenous babies is largely due to their unfavourable birth weight and gestational-age distributions. If Indigenous babies had the same birth weight and gestational age distribution as their non-Indigenous counterparts, then the relative disparity would be reduced by 87% and 20 fewer Indigenous babies would die in Queensland each year.
Our results suggest that Indigenous mothers at high risk of poor outcome (for example those Indigenous mothers in preterm labour) have good access to high quality medical care around the time of confinement. The main reason Indigenous babies have a high risk of death is because they are born too early and too small. Thus, to reduce the relative excess of deaths among Indigenous babies, priority should be given to primary health care initiatives aimed at reducing the prevalence of low birth weight and preterm birth.