By FAZEENA SALEEM
Fight against the rising obesity in Qatar has taken a new turn, with demand for bariatric or weight loss surgery for adolescents and adults growing dramatically over the past few years.
The waiting list at the Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and the high cost of treatment at private hospitals have even pushed some people to go abroad to countries like Jordan and Lebanon and undergo weight loss surgery.
Weight loss surgery at HMC is done free for Qataris and at a cost of QR5,000 for expatriates, while the same could cost as high as QR50,000 in a private hospital.
Studies show that at least 30 percent of Qatari population is over weight and many of them are obese, while 28 percent of Qatari children are overweight and 50 percent of Qatari boys have a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 22 and 36, an indication of severe obesity.
The HMC performed 1400 weight loss surgeries, at an average of 70 to 100 per month within one and half years and 85 percent of them involved Qatari women. Over 2000 people are on waiting list for six months to one year.
Over 40 youngsters have undergone weight loss surgery and majority of them were Qatari boys. All of them are between the age of 12 and 17 years of age.
More than 95 percent among teenagers who have undergone weight loss surgery were Qataris and the rest belong to other nationalities like Bahrainis, Saudis, Egyptians, Americans and British.
Life style changes for adolescents and adults after the weight loss surgery as they become more active and confident, claim doctors, They even suggest that authorities should consider including obesity and weight loss surgery in the national insurance scheme.
A person undergoing the surgery could lose weight gradually over 18 or 24 months up to 50kg to 60kg.
However only people doing a routine follow up with the doctors and adopting a new healthy life style will benefit from the surgery.
“The demand for weight loss surgery in Qatar has been growing significantly over the past few years. Statistics show that about 30 percent of our population are obese and they would need the surgery,” said Dr Moataz Bashah, Consultant, Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery at HMC.
“There is a long waiting list and HMC is trying to provide more space for the surgery,” he added.
Dr Bashah has advised people against going abroad for weight loss surgery due to several complications and risks involved in the procedure.
“Some people seek treatment abroad because of the long wait list, and majority of them come back with complications. The idea shouldn’t be just to do the surgery but do it perfectly,” he said.
“Also follow up is very necessary. They should meet the doctors every three months for check-ups and medical advice. Otherwise, many complications would arise like weakness in nerves and muscles,” said Dr Bashah.
Demand for weight loss surgery remains high at private hospitals as well despite the high cost. However, these hospitals don’t have a long waiting list and the waiting period is not more than two weeks.
The Al Ahli Hospital performs 80 to 100 weight loss surgeries per month on an average.
“At private hospitals we have selective guests, especially those who are rich who can afford the cost,” said Dr Abdul Azim A W Hussain, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Medical Director and Director of General Surgery Department at Al Ahli Hospital.
Majority of people undergoing weight loss surgery at Al Ahli are Qatari women of different ages, varying from 15 to 40 years. They also include women preparing for marriage and those who have difficulty in getting pregnant.
“In our society men would like to marry slim women. For some women obesity is a hindrance to getting pregnant,” said Dr Hussain.
The surgery would cost around QR50,000 as most of the equipment are used only once and it alone would coast QR20,000, according to Dr Hussain.
“I think it’s very important that the authorities consider this as a disease and provide insurance cover,” he suggested.
The BMI is a key factor in deciding overweight. It shows the relationship between a person’s weight and height. If an adults’ BMI is over 40 or has health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high cholesterol or depression, the person could choose to undergo weight loss surgery.
There are two basic methods of weight loss surgery- Restrictive surgery and Malabsorptive surgery. Restrictive surgery decreases food intake by creating a small upper stomach pouch to limit food intake. Malabsorptive surgery will alter digestion, thus causing the food to be poorly digested and incompletely absorbed.
These two methods are implemented through procedures known as gastric banding, gastric balloon and sleeve bypass surgeries.
Also there are several procedures that combine the restrictive and malabsorptive methods of weight loss surgery.
They are carried out through open surgeries and laparoscopic operation.
Experts suggest the weight loss surgery should not be considered until all other options are ruled out. The end result of the weight loss surgery depend on how strictly people adopt diet, exercise and lifestyle. “Weight loss surgery is not a cosmetic surgery,” said Dr Hussain.
Problems may arise after surgery leading to a re-operation for some people.
Therefore, a weight loss surgery is done only on people who have a documented medical history of dietary weight loss attempts, lifelong commitment to follow-up care and extensive diet, exercise and medical guidelines. Also a psychological evaluation is done on the patient before the surgery.
“Like all surgeries this too has complications. Some people may even develop serious complications,” said Dr Hussain.
However, obesity related health conditions may improve or be resolved with weight loss surgery. It can reduce hypertension, gallstones, high cholesterol, depression, infertility, gastroesophageal reflux disease, cardiovascular diseases, sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes, he added.