Open Access Research article

Adherence to management guidelines for growth faltering and anaemia in remote dwelling Australian Aboriginal infants and barriers to health service delivery

Sarah J Bar-Zeev1*, Sue G Kruske2, Lesley M Barclay3, Naor Bar-Zeev46 and Sue V Kildea5

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Rural Health, North Coast; Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, New South Wales, Sydney 2480, Australia

2 Queensland Centre for Mothers and Babies, School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia

3 Centre for Rural Health; North Coast, University of Sydney, New South Wales 2480, Sydney, Australia

4 Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, 0909, Sydney, Australia

5 Midwifery Research Unit, Australian Catholic University and the Mater Medical Research Institute, Queensland 4010, Brisbane, Australia

6 Malawi-Liverool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, Merseyside L69 3BX, UK

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:250  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-250

Published: 3 July 2013



Remote dwelling Aboriginal infants from northern Australia have a high burden of disease and frequently use health services. Little is known about the quality of infant care provided by remote health services. This study describes the adherence to infant guidelines for anaemia and growth faltering by remote health staff and barriers to effective service delivery in remote settings.


A mixed method study drew data from 24 semi-structured interviews with clinicians working in two remote communities in northern Australia and a retrospective cohort study of Aboriginal infants from these communities, born 2004–2006 (n = 398). Medical records from remote health centres were audited. The main outcome measures were the period prevalence of infants with anaemia and growth faltering and management of these conditions according to local guidelines. Qualitative data assessed clinicians’ perspectives on barriers to effective remote health service delivery.


Data from 398 health centre records were analysed. Sixty eight percent of infants were anaemic between six and twelve months of age and 42% had documented growth faltering by one year. Analysis of the growth data by the authors however found 86% of infants experienced growth faltering over 12 months. Clinical management and treatment completion was poor for both conditions. High staff turnover, fragmented models of care and staff poorly prepared for their role were barriers perceived by clinicians’ to impact upon the quality of service delivery.


Among Aboriginal infants in northern Australia, malnutrition and anaemia are common and occur early. Diagnosis of growth faltering and clinicians’ adherence to management guidelines for both conditions was poor. Antiquated service delivery models, organisation of staff and rapid staff turnover contributed to poor quality of care. Service redesign, education and staff stability must be a priority to redress serious deficits in quality of care provided for these infants.

Aboriginal; Adherence; Anaemia; Australia; Barriers; Growth faltering; Infant; Management guidelines; Primary health care; Remote; Quality of care