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Personal profile


Professor Brian Oldenburg has a distinguished career as a public health researcher and academic over more than 25 years. His research spans the health social/behavioural sciences and public health, with a major focus on research related to health systems, health policy and the primary and secondary prevention of chronic NCDs. He has conducted research in health care settings, work organisations, schools and other community settings in Australia and other countries that include China, Malaysia, India, South Africa and Finland. Over the past 15 years, he has increasingly focused on the development of the academic public health capabilities of LMICs both through his own research and through his extensive involvement with a number of capacity building networks. Currently, he is the lead investigator on both a research capacity building project running in India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia (NIH-funded) and a diabetes prevention program being conducted in Kerala, India (NHMRC-funded).

His research productivity is evidenced by almost 300 publications, including more than 150 peer-reviewed journal articles. He has co-authored many major (inter)national reports and monographs examining aspects of health trends, socioeconomic determinants of health and building public health capabilities of Australia and other countries. He has held senior appointments in many (inter)national organizations related to health, behavioral medicine and public health. He is a current co-editor of two international journals (Health Psychology Review and Translational Behavioral Medicine: Practice, Policy, Research). In 2006 he has awarded a Lifetime Fellowship membership of the US Society for Behavioral Medicine for his contribution andldquo;to building evidence-based population health interventions that can guide practice and change policy globallyandrdquo;.

TLC Diabetes is part of a suite of programs being developed internationally using information and communication technologies to better manage conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

'With the TLC program, people essentially ring up and talk to an intelligent computer. The computer program asks questions about their lifestyle and diabetes and gives them structured advice about how to improve diet and other lifestyle behaviours. It encourages them to set targets for nutrition or exercise and provides constructive feedback,' Brian says.

When patients ring back a week later, all previous information has been recorded. The program follows up on the previous week's targets and offers further support and encouragement.

Patients also download their blood glucose results into the system. The computer checks whether blood glucose is being measured as often as prescribed and whether the results are in the recommended range.

'People really like the program,' Brian says. 'We have been running a trial for the past three years and people actually identify with the program in a very personal way. As far as they are concerned, they are having a conversation with a 'real' health professional.'

The trial found an average improvement of 10 per cent in diabetes management. 'One other significant finding, which we didn't anticipate, was people also reporting improved quality of life and mental health.

'We think this comes from the fact that the program makes people feel like they have more control over their condition. Managing a long-term chronic condition can be incredibly difficult.'

Funding to develop and pilot TLC came from the Diabetes Australia Research Trust, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), health insurer HCF, and the Health and Medical Research Foundation. Similar programs are being developed for other conditions, and a Cantonese version of TLC Diabetes is being trialled in China. Brian would like to see the program being made available to everybody with diabetes and adopted as a supporting tool to Australia's National Diabetes Services Scheme.

Brian's development of preventive health strategies and tools evolved from his many years working as a clinical psychologist in hospitals with patients with chronic conditions such as renal disease and heart problems.

'Over a number of years, my interests moved 'upstream', towards trying to prevent people getting into those situations. How can we help people change their health behaviour and how can we influence the culture and environment in which they live to improve support for a healthy lifestyle?'

He increasingly finds himself working in countries where health issues are exacerbated by resource shortages and limited healthcare systems. 'My aim is to help prevent chronic conditions and to slow their progression in these countries,' he says.

He is leading an extensive diabetes prevention trial in Kerala, one of the most socio-economically developed parts of India. More than 15 per cent of population in Kerala has diabetes. This is more than double rate of diabetes in Australia.

'We are interested in Kerala region because it is setting the trend for other parts of the country. That's what the rest of India will become in the next few years,' he says. 'If we can develop effective intervention programs in Kerala, there will be an opportunity to transfer and adapt these to other parts of India and to other rapidly developing countries.'


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