Making a difference to First Nations mums and bubs

3 November 2022

Tackling a digital divide and improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and babies is the aim of an Australian-first project involving First Nations community leaders and University of Queensland researchers.   

The Digital Infrastructure For improving First Nations Maternal and Child Health (DIFFERENCE) project has been awarded $3 million under the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

Chief Investigator UQ’s Associate Professor Clair Sullivan said the project would help link disparate records across different heath care services with an intent to improve maternal and perinatal health outcomes.

“There is a data disconnect between primary and hospital care so it is hard for medical professionals to see all the information they need to make important decisions,” Dr Sullivan said.

“We will pioneer the connection of First Nations health data in real time across clinical services and create a standard that ensures continuous and quality care for mothers and their babies.”

This Australian-first digital transformation project will unite First Nations health practitioners, digital health researchers and community members to help transform the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are supported throughout their pregnancy.

“There are high maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rates amongst Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander women and babies compared to Australia’s relatively low national rates,” Dr Sullivan said.

“First Nations mothers are three times more likely to die during childbirth compared to other women, and babies are more likely to be born either with fetal growth restriction, small for their gestation age, stillborn or preterm.

“These concerning statistics are why we are embarking on this project.”

Institute for Urban Indigenous Health Chief Executive Officer Adrian Carson highlighted the importance of this project in building on gains seen in southeast Queensland following a decade of Indigenous birthing service reform.  

“For women attending our Birthing in our Community program, we can significantly reduce pre-term births by close to 40 per cent and surpass national targets of greater than 90 per cent of babies being born with a healthy birthweight,” Mr Carson said.

“Enabling linkage of data will only enhance our capabilities to build on this program and enhance the overall experience to and from the hospital for mums and bubs and ensure that they get off to a good start.

“Importantly, we’ll be working with our services, families and community to ensure there are strong governance and data sharing protocols in place to drive this project, designed and led by First Nations people.”  

Chief Investigator and Director of UQ’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health Professor James Ward said it was an important project to help close the gap.

“The DIFFERENCE project outcomes can hopefully be transferred to other areas of health,” Professor Ward said.

“It fits nicely with our urban health research agenda to improve outcomes for urban Indigenous peoples.”

The DIFFERENCE project is a partnership between UQ, the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, Mater Health, Metro North Hospital and Health Service, CSIRO, Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation and QUT.

This project received grant funding from the Australian Government.

Image credit: Caro Telfer/Adobe

Media: Associate Professor Clair Sullivan, , +61 (0)7 3346 5343; Professor James Ward,; UQ Communications,, 0436 368 746.