National Women's Health Policy

3. Sexual and reproductive health

Current government action to improve women's sexual and reproductive health.

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Current government action to improve women's sexual and reproductive health

Family planning

Six organisations are currently supported to provide information to women on family planning, support and sexual and reproductive health education and advice.

Sexually transmitted infections

New national strategies (2010–13) for HIV, sexually transmitted infections, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander blood-borne viruses (BBVs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were developed during 2009–10 and have been endorsed by Australia’s Health Ministers Committee (AHMC). These strategies identify priority populations (including women) and activities to reduce the transmission and morbidity of BBVs and STIs and minimise their personal and social impacts.

In relation to sexual health the Department funds the following programs:
  • $12.5 million for increased awareness, surveillance and pilot testing program for chlamydia (over five years—phase one and two completed) with $1.8 million for a GP pilot testing program for chlamydia (over three years) that is ongoing in 2010–11 and forms phase three of the program.
  • $9.8 million to National STI Sexual Health Campaign (over four years).
  • $33.2 million in a range of programs to prevent and treat STIs and BBVs (for 2010–11):
    • $6 million for community-based organisations for education and prevention;
    • $9.2 million for four national research centres; and
    • $18 million for education, prevention and surveillance activities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sexual health.

Reproductive health

Funding has been provided to support the Jean Hailes Foundation in association with the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Alliance to develop evidence-based guidelines and conduct an education program for health professionals and the community.

The New Structure for Assisted Reproductive Technologies initiative ensures that assisted reproductive technologies remain accessible to all women who may not otherwise be able to achieve a pregnancy.

The government provides funding for community education programs to address female genital cutting through the National Health Care agreements. The Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2009 was introduced in September 2009 to better protect people at risk of violation of their fundamental human rights. This may include women and girls at risk of female genital cutting.

Maternal health

In 2008–09, the Australian Government conducted a review of maternity services across Australia. The Maternity Services Review was the first step in developing a comprehensive plan for maternity services into the future, and it considered issues relevant to the full range of maternity services which included pregnancy care, birthing, postnatal care and peer and
social support for women in the perinatal period. Improving Maternity Services in Australia:
The Report of the Maternity Services Review (the Report), was released in February 2009.
  • In response to the Report, the 2009–10 Improving Maternity Services Budget Package provides $120.5 million over four years for a maternity reform package, which delivers a range of measures aimed at providing Australian women with more choice in their maternity care, while maintaining Australia’s strong record of safe, high quality maternity services.
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  • The package includes:
    • access for patients of eligible midwives to Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) rebates and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medicines from 1 November 2010;
    • a government-supported professional indemnity insurance scheme for eligible midwives which commenced on 1 July 2010;
    • increased services for rural and remote communities through an expansion of the successful Medical Specialist Outreach Assistance Program;
    • additional training support for GPs and midwives, particularly in rural and remote Australia;
    • the expansion and improvement of the existing National Pregnancy Telephone Counseling Helpline to deliver a 24 hour, seven days a week telephone helpline and information service, which commenced on 1 July 2010.
  • To facilitate the new MBS, PBS and insurance arrangements, on 16 March 2010 the Australian Parliament passed the: Health Legislation Amendment (Midwives and Nurse Practitioners) Act 2010; Midwife Professional Indemnity (Commonwealth Contributions) Scheme Act 2010; and Midwife Professional Indemnity (Run-off Cover Support Payment) Act 2010.
  • The Australian Government is also working with states and territories to develop a National Maternity Services Plan (the Plan). The overall objective of the Plan is to provide a strategic national framework, endorsed by state, territory and Commonwealth governments for the five year period 2010–2015. It is expected to be completed shortly.
Maternity Peer Support is part of the $120.5 million 2009–10 Budget package to improve choice and access to maternity services for pregnant women and new mothers in Australia. Women and their families will have greater access to telephone support.

Funding will assist a small number of specialist organisations, including the Bonnie Babes Small Miracles Foundation, SIDS and Kids Australia, and Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support Australia (SANDS), to provide telephone-based peer support for people who are experiencing grief after the loss of a baby during pregnancy or in the first year of parenthood.

The National Perinatal Depression initiative provides $55 million over five years to improve prevention and early detection of antenatal and postnatal depression and provide better support and treatment for expectant and new mothers experiencing depression.

Under this initiative, expectant and new mothers will be screened for antenatal and postnatal depression, and women who are identified as being at risk of or experiencing depression in the perinatal period will be able to get the support and care they need, including medical treatment and counselling services.

National Breastfeeding Strategy and support for breastfeeding

In recognition of the importance of breastfeeding, the Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010–2015 was endorsed by the Australian Health Ministers Conference on 13 November 2009. The strategy provides a framework for priorities and action for Australian governments at all levels to protect, promote, support and monitor breastfeeding throughout Australia.

In April 2010 Health Ministers endorsed the 2010 Implementation Plan for the Breastfeeding Strategy. Implementation of the strategy will be progressed by governments both independently and nationally, with ongoing leadership from the Commonwealth and input from community stakeholders. A progress report is anticipated to be provided to the Australian Health Ministers’ Conference in mid-2011.

The Implementation Plan identifies 10 action areas based on the goals and objectives of the Breastfeeding Strategy. These areas include monitoring and surveillance; health professionals’ education and training; dietary guidelines and growth charts; breastfeedingfriendly environments (including workplaces and child care settings); support for breastfeeding in health care settings; revisiting Australia’s response to the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and related World Health Assembly resolutions; exploring the evidence, quality assurance, costeffectiveness and regulatory issues associated with the establishment and operation of milk banks; breastfeeding support for priority groups (including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups); continuity of care, referral pathways and support networks; and education and awareness, including antenatal education.
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Implementation of the strategy will build on the Commonwealth’s existing commitment to breastfeeding, including funding for formal and informal support for breastfeeding women. As part of this commitment, the Australian Breastfeeding Association has been funded $2.5 million over five years to provide a toll-free 24 hour National Breastfeeding Helpline providing breastfeeding information and peer support for mothers and their families. The helpline has received over 125,000 calls between October 2008 and the end of June 2010. The number is 1800 MUM 2 MUM (1800 686 2 686).

To address the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, the government is investing $90 million over five years in the New Directions Mothers and Babies Services. These services seek to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their mothers via enhanced access to antenatal care; standard information about baby care; practical advice and assistance with breastfeeding, nutrition and parenting; monitoring of developmental milestones, immunisation status and infections; and health checks for Indigenous children before starting school.

New Directions Mothers and Babies Services invests $90.3 million over five years (2007–08 to 2011–12) and since 1 July 2009 is the Australian Government’s contribution to Element 3 of the IECDNP. The program aims to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their mothers via enhanced access to antenatal care; standard information about baby care; practical advice and assistance with breastfeeding, nutrition and parenting; monitoring of developmental milestones, immunisation status and infections; and health checks for Indigenous children before
starting school.

The Australian Nurse Family Partnership program invests $37.4 million over four years (2007–08 to 2010–11) to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their mothers by encouraging healthy behaviours for women during pregnancy, and optimal care of children up to two years of age.

The Healthy for Life Program promotes a quality improvement approach to service provision including services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women which encourage adult and child health checks, early presentation during pregnancy, healthy behaviour during pregnancy including a reduction in selected risk factors, and the promotion of good health for children in their early years ($38 million per annum).

Future government action to improve women’s sexual and reproductive health

3.1 Continue supporting Australian women’s sexual and reproductive health through a range of programs.
3.2 Monitor emerging evidence to inform any new policy directions and program development.