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Posted 03 October 2011

Traveller infant mortality still higher than the general population

A new report on Traveller health shows that while there have been positive improvements in some aspects of maternity care, Traveller infant mortality (12 per 1,000) remains almost four times that of the general population.

The findings also show that Traveller mothers have a shorter birth gap between pregnancies, and higher parity and stillbirth rates, when compared to the general population.

"Travellers also tend to have their first children at a younger age than parents among the general population," says UCD Professor Cecily Kelleher, who was the lead researcher on the All Ireland Traveller Health Study.

"The average age of a first-time Traveller mother is 26, while the average age of a first-time Traveller father is 27 – making them on average, 6 and 7 years younger than first time parents from the general population."

The study, a Birth Cohort Follow-Up Report of the All Ireland Traveller Health Study, is part of a detailed longitudinal study investigating health-related issues of maternal and infant health status and the health services utilisation experience of 508 Traveller families and their infants.

It was completed with the cooperation of Traveller mothers, public health nurses and other healthcare staff.

The Department of Health and Children in conjunction with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland commissioned the study in 2007.

The UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science at University College Dublin conducted the Study. It is the first comprehensive study in over twenty years since research conducted by the Health Research Board in 1987: 'Travellers Health Status Study – Vital Statistics of the Travelling People'.

The report shows that more Traveller mothers now present for the first booking visit to the hospital for antenatal services, with rates almost the same as the general population (22.5% versus 28% at 3 months).

More Traveller mothers (81.5%) had shared ante-natal care between maternity hospitals and General Practitioners than the general population (76.6%). However 2.1% of Traveller mothers had no ante-natal care compared to 0.2% of the general population.

The average birth weight of Traveller infants was comparable to the general population. And Traveller babies were shown to have a comparable growth rate with the general population at 9 months of age.

Only 2.2% of Traveller mothers initiate breastfeeding compared to around 50% in the general population, according to a study of Traveller families and their infants.

Public Health Nursing, community-based health services and Primary Health Care (General Practitioner) services, are the main services utilised by Traveller mothers and their infants during the first year of life.

Respiratory-related conditions were the most common reason for Traveller infants to attended health services. This was also the case in the general population.

Traveller health continues to be a priority for the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive and considerable work has already been undertaken in this area. This commitment is reflected in the significant resources allocated to Traveller health services and to the commissioning of the All Ireland Traveller Health Study.

The study findings of the newly released Birth Cohort Study Follow Up will add to the evidence and knowledge available to inform policy development and practice in relation to Traveller health.

This is Part D of Technical Report 2 which was initially published in September 2010 and contained reports on Demography and Vital Statistics, the initial Birth Cohort Study and Travellers in Institutions. This report completes the outputs from the All Ireland Traveller Health Study.

The full report can be downloaded from The Department of Health and Children.


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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