Health experts study Australia's way of tackling emerging diseases
By Julie Ji
25 July 2006
In a pattern repeated throughout the developing world, health services in Mongolia are struggling to cope with a dramatic rise in the number of cases of diabetes.
Dr Bayasgalan Tumenbayar, from the University of Mongolia's School of Medicine, has seen the condition spread to an extent where an estimated 10 per cent of the adult population show symptoms, although 90 per cent of cases are undiagnosed. "Back in the 1960s there were only a handful of cases in the entire nation, but by 1999 the figure had risen to more than 180,000," he says.
Dr Tumenbayar is currently in Sydney as a guest of the University's Australian Health Policy Institute(AHPI), gathering ideas on how to lobby politicians and initiate nationwide reforms. Once back in Mongolia he aims to establish a national diabetes centre and help to untangle Mongolia's complex health insurance laws.
He is one of three health specialists from the Western Pacific region visiting Sydneywith assistance from the University's International Development Fund Program
Senior endocrinologist Dr Hoang Kim Uoc from Vietnam is also visiting the city. Dr Hoang is involved in a World Diabetes Project in two North Vietnamese provinces, and is in Sydney to learn about Australia's management of the disease. He explains: "Diabetes has only just become a public health problem in Vietnam, due to economic development and an increasingly Westernised lifestyle. Diabetes risk factors have increased by three or four fold since the 1990s."
Dr Uoc says his visit has made him aware of Australia's high standard of diabetes education and treatment. He hopes to persuade the Vietnamese government to establish an education system that involves setting up facilities such as diabetes education centres and agencies, and training healthcare givers in educating the public.
Another area of concern is obesity - something not previously associated with Asian countries like South Korea. Professor Nam H Cho, from Seoul's Ajou University is in Sydney to study Australia's policy and practices on combating childhood obesity.
After meeting researchers from the USyd Institute of Obesity Nutrition and Exercise, as well as staff of the PlayingHealthy Foundation, Professor Cho says he is impressed by Australia's high level of public awareness. He said obesity is an issue that South Korea would rather hide than confront.
Professor Cho said he was impressed by Australian facilities offering safe, well-equipped environments that encourage children to enjoy the excitement of physical activity. He believes South Korea is capable of controlling childhood obesity, but the key lies in generating evidence to persuade the government to take action.
The Australian Health Policy Institute recently joined the academic network of the Oxford Health Alliance, a global non-profit think-and-action tank that aims to reverse the mounting tide of chronic diseases.
AHPI director Professor Stephen Leeder said: "What we see happening in Australia in terms of trends and policy towards diabetes and obesity are also major problems in our Western Pacific neighbours like Mongolia and Vietnam."
He said the AHPI aims to open up more opportunities for collaboration and the exchange of information and experience by hosting more visits by overseas researchers.
Pictured: Left to right: Dr Baysa Tumenbayar from Mongolia; Ms Judith McMillan, general manager of the Playing Healthy Foundation; Ms Di Murphy, business development manager; Dr Uoc; and Professor Nam Cho.
Contact: Richard North