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Participants Dr Kellie Mibus, Rebecca Smith, Dr Chris Clohesy and Dr Cheryl Wilson

A program aimed at improving antenatal care in rural communities has been extended until October 2020, empowering remote healthcare professionals and saving the lives of mothers and babies.

The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF) and the University of South Australia’s (UniSA) Healthy Newborn Project gives remote doctors and midwives the opportunity to attend vital ultrasound training which can then be administered back in their communities – many of which have been without this important service.

Led by Associate Professor Nayana Parange, Professor Eva Bezak and their team from the UniSA, 25 doctors and midwives attended two workshops in Adelaide earlier this year.

Thanks to THRF’s generous donors, an additional $160,000 will be provided to support the program for a further 18 months until October 2020 (original funding went to April 2019). Amongst other research initiatives, this additional funding will allow 12 more rural healthcare professionals to take part in an antenatal ultrasound workshop and 12 past participants to attend a follow-up session offered to reinforce their skills.

“Ultrasound plays an integral part in antenatal care that can provide timely diagnosis of complications including ectopic pregnancies, which can be life-threatening” A/Prof Parange said.

“However research has shown that ultrasound access is limited, delayed or non-existent in many rural and remote communities in Australia.

“We are very grateful for THRF’s funding and support in order to make this vital training happen.”

Nurse Sophie Kieliszek, who works in a remote outreach community up to 800km from Alice Springs, said the course gave her invaluable skills to help expectant mothers and aid early diagnosis.

“I had no experience with ultrasounds beforehand,” Ms Kieliszek said. “We had a machine but I didn’t know how to use it so I jumped at the opportunity to do the course.

“It’s made a huge difference to the quality of care we can give to the community, and it’s also really lovely for the women to be able to see their babies.

“It’s bridging the gap between women in remote areas and women in the city.”

Dr Chris Clohesy, who works in the remote Aboriginal community of Maningrida, about 600km east of Darwin, said the workshop helped reinforce his skills to be able to deliver more informed advice.

“It’s a core skill to have for remote doctors and nurses and I feel more confident in my approach now,” Dr Clohesy said.

“It is especially helpful in an emergency situation where, for example if they’re in labour, I can do a quick scan and check where the head is or see the heartbeat.”

Dr Kellie Mibus, a rural GP at Waikerie, said the workshop included invaluable simulation work and practice on pregnant women.

“The simulation was great for understanding the images we would see on real life patients and improving our techniques with obtaining these images,” Dr Mibus said.

“It was also great to see images of things that occurred more rarely that we are less likely to see in our communities, but important to be aware of.

“The live pregnant models were also appreciated as it gave an opportunity to test those skills and learn further with real life images.”

In addition to the invaluable training being offered by the Healthy Newborn Project, the team will be conducting an Australia wide needs analysis survey to provide data around access to antenatal ultrasound scans in rural and remote communities across Australia. Over the next 12 months the research will examine factors such as the impact of needing to travel, and determine how many lives could be saved through improved access to antenatal ultrasound.

The extension of the project will also enable the team to perform a systematic review and cost analysis of Point-of-Care Ultrasound (POCUS) in remote and rural Australia and to develop an educational augmented reality mobile application for pregnant women to improve lifestyle choices during pregnancy. It is hoped these proactive initiatives will address some of the barriers identified, providing data and a physical resource aimed at closing the gap and saving the lives of mothers and babies in our rural and remote communities.

Health professionals in regional and rural Australia who are interested in more information about the training, are asked to contact Amber Bidner from the University of South Australia.

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