professor newnham sits in couch and speaks to person off camera in drawing room

17 Nov, 2020

Making WA an international hotspot for preterm birth prevention: Professor John Newnham AM

Professor John Newnham AM is a leader of modern obstetrics, described by the world’s leading scientific journal as someone who has ‘…changed the practice of medicine and the lives of women and infants’.

Most recently appointed the 2020 Senior Australian of the Year for his work in this area, Professor Newnham also spearheads the research portfolio at the Women and Infants Research Foundation as Chief Scientific Director (an organisation the Governor is proud to be Patron of).

Mr Newnham is also a Professor of Obstetrics at the University of Western Australia (UWA), Head of the UWA School of Women’s and Infants’ Health at King Edward Memorial Hospital and an Adjunct Professor in Beijing and China.

The Governor had the pleasure of speaking with Professor Newnham at Government House in October. Conversation centered around his creation of the Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance, the Professor’s early career in the US and the success of his popular weekly video series during the COVID-19 pandemic which helped to educate pregnant women on the virus.

Speaking about his role in founding and leading the pioneering Raine Study –  the world’s first and most enduring pregnancy-focused lifetime cohort project – the Professor summarised his early fascination for obstetrics and related research,

“I’ve said this many times but I truly felt that life before birth was an undiscovered continent. I couldn’t understand as a medical student why no one talked about the implications of the nine months before birth for the rest of life, and why no one thought it was important.

And culturally it’s evident by the fact that our birthdays start on the day we are born – it’s like nothing happened until we are born. The field of paediatrics begins on the day you are born. And obstetrics dealt mostly with the process of pregnancy care and delivery – rather than what was happening to the unborn baby.

That then manifested itself with me wanting to follow up a large number of West Australian unborn babies from 18 weeks of pregnancy for life so we could learn what early life events mean when you become an adult – not just in health but in your performance and place in society. That’s the origin of the Raine Study which is 30 years old now.”

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