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Higher infant death rate among socially disadvantaged families, Qld study says

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Indigenous infants in Queensland may be dying suddenly and unexpectedly at a rate more than 3.5 times that of non-Indigenous infants.

The University of the Sunshine Coast study also found a higher rate of deaths among infants from disadvantaged and vulnerable families.

In what is the first large-scale study of all sudden infant deaths in Queensland, the report has identified key factors contributing to the state’s persistently high annual death rate of babies.

PhD student Rebecca Shipstone has conducted an extensive investigation into Queensland’s annual rate of Sudden and Unexpected Deaths in Infants.

The Queensland rate has not reduced since 2002 and remains higher than most other states and territories.

Ms Shipstone says the study found large disparities in the infant death rate among socially disadvantaged and vulnerable families, and among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, compared to other Queensland families.

“Our research identified that Indigenous infants died suddenly at a rate over 3.5 times that of non-Indigenous infants, a much higher rate than that indicated in official national ‘Closing the Gap’ statistics,” she says.

“We also found that vulnerable families experiencing multiple adversity were at greater risk of sudden infant death than other families.”

The study analysed historic and current data from multiple sources including the Queensland Family and Child Commission, Queensland Health and the Office of the State Coroner.

“These results are concerning because infant mortality rates and causes of mortality are important measures of the effectiveness, availability and accessibility of health services for mothers and babies,” Ms Shipstone said.

“It was also concerning to note the lack of support and the trauma experienced by families during infant death investigations.”

The researchers recommend that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and socially vulnerable families should be priorities for health promotion to address sudden infant deaths.