ALMOST two-thirds of pregnant women in the Grampians do not attend antenatal visits during their first trimester, a report has found.
The report, conducted by the National Health Performance Authority, found that only 36.6 per cent of pregnant women living in the Medicare Local Grampians catchment had attended an antenatal visit during their first trimester.
It also found that more than 15 per cent of women in the Grampians catchment continued to smoke during their pregnancies.
The NPHA report is the first of its kind in Australia to break down statistics by Medicare Local catchments.
Results were shown for 2009-12 for more than 60 Medicare Local areas.
The report measured infant and child death rates, low-birth weight infants and the percentage of women who had not attended any antenatal visits in their first trimester.
It also revealed there were 3.3 deaths per 1000 live births in the Grampians catchment.
The report found that health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the Grampians was dramatically lower.
Only 21.8 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pregnant women attended antenatal visits in their first trimester and almost 35 per cent continued to smoke throughout their pregnancy, the report said.
Ballarat Community Health chief executive officer Robin Reeves said the results were “startling” when compared to other areas in Australia.
In Melbourne’s Bayside Medicare Local catchment, more than 72 per cent of women attended at least one antenatal visit in their first trimester and only 5.5 per cent of women smoke during their pregnancies.
“When you compare the results for the Grampians to other areas the results are shocking and startling,” Ms Reeves said.
“We need to acknowledge that health outcomes for people living in regional or rural areas are severely compromised compared to urban areas.”
Ms Reeves said social determinants including lower access to health services, public transport, high rates of unemployment, lower levels of education and access to healthy foods played a role in poorer health outcomes.
She said nicotine addiction was extremely difficult to overcome and advised pregnant women who were smokers to access support from their practitioner.
Ms Reeves said early antenatal visits were important for monitoring the health of mothers and babies and identifying pregnancy complications early.