Monash research to improve pregnancy care for at-risk populations in Australia

Three different at-risk populations with evidence of poor pregnancy outcomes are the focus of Dr Melanie Gibson-Helm’s research program, funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council Early Career...

Three different at-risk populations with evidence of poor pregnancy outcomes are the focus of Dr Melanie Gibson-Helm’s research program, funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council Early Career Fellowship.

In collaboration with Monash Health clinicians and Monash University researchers Dr Jacqueline Boyle and Professor Helena Teede, Dr Gibson-Helm from the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI) leads research aiming to improve pregnancy care for women of refugee background, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

“There is considerable evidence that women in these populations can experience poorer health than the general population, are at greater risk of long-term health problems, and may not receive the health care they need,” Dr Gibson-Helm said.

MCHRI, a partnership between Monash University and Monash Health, is the only Centre in Australia with dedicated women’s public health research programs in refugee health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and PCOS.

Dr Gibson-Helm said high-quality and appropriate pregnancy care is of particular importance for women who may have poor general health, experience barriers accessing health care generally or may benefit from support to change health behaviours.

“Pregnancy is a period of frequent contact with a level of health care not typically accessed otherwise and is also an opportune time to initiate lifestyle change.”

One study in this program that recently received a Monash University Faculty Strategic Grant and Monash Health seed funding aims to address a current gap in pregnancy care delivery in Victoria by designing, implementing and evaluating a mental health screening program in pregnancy for women of refugee background.

“A key gap we have previously identified is a lack of screening and facilitated referral pathways for diagnosis and management of anxiety and depression in pregnancy, despite screening being part of recommended pregnancy care for all women in Australia.

“Under-recognition of anxiety or depression may mean that women do not receive the support and treatment they need and this is a challenge for many health services in Australia.

“Providing high-quality, appropriate pregnancy care can be complex, but also presents a vital opportunity to improve both short and long-term wellbeing of women and their babies,” added Dr Gibson-Helm.

Dr Gibson-Helm’s project will be conducted at Monash Health and was co-developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers and clinicians at MCHRI, Monash Women's Maternity Services, Monash Refugee Health and Wellbeing and the Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry & Psychology.