CRE HiPP Showcase highlights health equity across preconception and pregnancy

Rebecca Krispin Uncategorised

Obstetrician Dr Nisha Khot, the first keynote speaker at CRE HiPP’s 2022 Showcase on November 9, started her session by addressing the “elephant in the room.”

“I want to be upfront by saying that what I’m going to present to you today is not going to sit comfortably with many of us, and indeed it should not sit comfortably with any of us,” she said.

“Of course we all have a view of ourselves…that we are basically very fair people. We judge others on merit. 

“We of course don’t have any biases, because that’s how we view ourselves and it’s very important for us to view ourselves like that because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to function.”

“But it’s not true about me, and it’s not true about 99.99% of people, because all of us have biases within ourselves.”

“We have to acknowledge those biases and we have to recognise that we can’t see the privilege we have.”

As well as the need to address personal biases, Dr Khot emphasised the importance of viewing equity and diversity in the perinatal health workforce through a broad lens.

“It’s not just gender – it is diversity beyond gender, looking at age, generation, ethnicity, international experience. When we talk about diversity we can’t limit ourselves to one thing, because the whole point of diversity is to include all of those different things that bring different perspectives.”

She also acknowledged that further work is needed to deepen our understanding of equity in this area.

“We can’t change what we don’t measure,” she concluded.

The second keynote speaker was Professor Sharon Bessell, Director of the Children’s Policy Centre at the Australian National University. She discussed the deleterious impact of health and social inequities during the first 2000 days of a child’s life. 

It is during this stage of rapid growth and development that the “foundations are laid for future health and wellbeing,” said Dr Bessell.

“Research now links heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer to pathways that are created in early childhood. There is also evidence that the conditions that lead to obesity both in children and adults are established in the early years.” 

One in five Australian children now live in poverty, and that figure is likely to worsen with the current cost of living crisis. 

Dr Bessell detailed how both cognitive and non-cognitive skill gaps start to emerge between children from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds by pre-school.

“By school age, children are on developmental trajectories that, while not impossible to shift, begin to significantly shape children’s lives.”

“An early start that is shaped by poverty, inequality, discrimination, exclusion and stigma compromise all that comes later in life,” she said. 

Her presentation focussed on the the unfair and failing systems and structures that make it difficult for families to ensure their children thrive, including welfare, policy frameworks, wealth inequality, and discrimination, systemic racism and exclusion.

The Children’s Policy Centre has developed a multi-dimensional framework for understanding and responding to child poverty, titled the “MOR for Children Framework,” developed through research with hundreds of children and their families.

It details three dimensions of deep poverty: Material deprivation, access to opportunities, and social and economic structures. Dr Bessell emphasised that all of these aspects need to be addressed in order to solve the critical issue of child poverty in Australia. 

The Showcase also included a fascinating range of presentations on different aspects of equity across preconception and pregnancy health, including:

  • Dr Briony Hill – Developing a set of core indicators for preconception health in Australia.
  • Rebecca Madill – Establishing a consumer and community involvement (CCI) group to understand health information seeking behaviours for CALD women during pregnancy.
  • Professor Louise Maple Brown & Sian Graham – Incorporating Indigenous knowledges in diabetes research: the Diabetes across the Lifecourse; Northern Australia Partnership.
  • Elizabeth Nkabane-Nkholongo – Cultural adaptation of a mobile conversation Agent to provide health education to the hard to reach adolescent girls and young women in Lesotho.

CRE HiPP Director Professor Helen Skouteris gave a summary of the centre’s achievements, including our role in developing a multidisciplinary research workforce in preconception and pregnancy health.

“For me the most exciting part of leading a Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) is building capacity in our Early Career Researchers (ECRs),” she said.

“CRE HiPP has grown from 3 ECRs when the centre started just two years ago, to over 160 ECRs and more than 25 PhD students.”

CRE HiPP has also developed and supported numerous initiatives to ensure that diversity and equity is considered in all aspects of our research and work.

Examples include:

The 2022 CRE HiPP Showcase was a great success, with online attendance by over 190 participants. In case you missed this exciting event, a video is available below!