• Open Access

Can we count? Enumerating births in two remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory


Correspondence to: Ms Malinda Steenkamp, University Centre for Rural Health North Coast, School of Public Health, The University of Sydney, PO Box 3074, Lismore, NSW 2480; e-mail: malinda.steenkamp@sydney.edu.au


Objective: To examine the accuracy of birth counts for two remote Aboriginal communities in the Top End of the Northern Territory.

Methods: We compared livebirth counts from community birth records with birth registration numbers and perinatal counts.

Results: For 2004–06, for Community 1, there were 204 recorded local livebirths, 190 birth registrations and 172 livebirths in perinatal data. In Community 2, the counts were 244, 222 and 208, respectively. The mean annual number of babies, indicating service requirements for babies and their mothers, ranged from 57 to 68 (depending on source) in Community 1, and from 69 to 81 in Community 2. Most differences were for births to Aboriginal mothers. Births to ‘visitors’ accounted for 16 births in Community 1 and 30 cases in Community 2.

Conclusion: Birth registration and perinatal data apparently underestimate community birth counts at a local level. Mobility of Aboriginal women seems to partly explain this.

Implications: The differences in birth counts have important implications for local planning in relation to demand on housing, health and education services. The number of births is also a critical data requirement for measuring infant health status, including mortality rates, with measures of disadvantage strongly influenced by the number of births. Aboriginal mobility is not a ‘data problem’, but an integral part of Aboriginal life that needs to be catered for in administrative data collections in the Northern Territory.