Thousands of soon-to-be mothers across rural and remote Australia are missing out on potentially life-saving antenatal ultrasounds because of a lack of trained healthcare professionals.
It’s something that Dr Nayana Parange, from UniSA’s Division of Health Sciences, is determined to change, building on work that she’s been involved in over several years, including on UniSA’s Whyalla campus.
With more than $100,000 funding from The Hospital Research Foundation, Dr Parange is leading a Healthy Newborn Project that includes training up to 20 GPs and midwives from rural and regional South Australia in point of care ultrasound. With in-kind support from UniSA, the training will be held early next year at the University’s specialist facilities on the City East campus, which includes a state of the art ultrasound simulation lab.
At least two ultrasound scans during pregnancy are considered best-practice antenatal care. They provide vital information for a pregnant woman and the health professional, such as an estimated due date for the baby, which can be crucial in diagnosing complications. Ultrasounds can identify a range of complications, including ectopic pregnancies, which can be life-threatening.
Dr Parange says the lack of regionally-based GPs and midwives who are trained to perform antenatal ultrasounds, as well as a lack of equipment, is a widespread problem putting lives at risk.
“An antenatal ultrasound can be life-saving but at the moment not everyone is receiving at least one ultrasound during pregnancy – as health guidelines recommend – because of a lack of equipment and a lack of staff trained to use it,” Dr Parange says.
“Thanks to the generosity of The Hospital Research Foundation community, we are now able to deliver a training program to GPs and midwives that will bring lifesaving antenatal point of care ultrasound service within easier reach for pregnant mums and communities living in regional and remote South Australia.
“We also hope the government will come on board and provide equipment in the rural and remote areas that need it.”
While some pregnant women will travel for an ultrasound, many don’t – for a range of reasons – or are unable to do so. But there’s little data to provide reliable numbers around this.
The Healthy Newborn Project will also enable Dr Parange and her team to undertake a 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.
Women living in the APY Lands in South Australia’s remote north west, face a five-hour drive and a plane journey to be able to receive an ultrasound scan.
“Which makes it difficult in itself, and there’s no funding for a support person to go with them either, so that’s another factor that can discourage them,” Dr Parange says. “If women are able to get the service locally, then life-threatening conditions can be picked up in a timely way.”
The program is currently recruiting participants. If you are a health professional in remote South Australia and interested in more information about the antenatal ultrasound training, please contact Dr Parange.
Dr Parange, who was Program Director: Medical Sonography, has just commenced in the role of Associate Dean: Online Education with UniSA Online.