Lawani: Obesity is the Foundation of Most Non Communicable Diseases

The Consultant Physician, Olive Multi-Specialist Hospitals, Dr. Olu Lawani, in this interview with Obinna Chima, spoke on ways to improve the country’s healthcare system as well as how individuals can overcome certain diseases
Every year government come out with its annual budget, but the allocation to the health sector is always minimal. What do you think is the implication of this? 
This is a very important issue. As you know, there is a common adage which says health is wealth. Health would lead to increased productivity. So, everywhere in the world, health is given the right priority. I know that we are facing a lot of challenges with our economy, however, the place of health cannot be far more emphasised that is what we are saying. The budget for the health sector now is abysmal and we need to improve on that. Productivity in an ailing economy would depend on a very high level of healthcare. So, healthcare now has gone technical. So, the involvement of equipment and the wherewithal to maintain the equipment makes it mandatory that budgetary allocation for health should be more than what it is at the moment.
Non communicable diseases are fast becoming Nigeria’s number one health burden. How can this be tackled?
Non communicable diseases (NCDs) are increasing because the level of income and age are gradually also improving in Nigeria. There was a time when the age when many people would succumb to death was lower. Now, we are beginning to have the aged in our communities and in that group, far more non-communicable diseases are emerging. So, it is time for government and every individual to use the preventive approach. And the preventive approach would include what we do to ourselves with health, in terms of screening, cleanliness, in terms of simple hygiene, in terms of medical check-ups at intervals, so that many of these cardiovascular diseases can be nipped at the bud. Don’t also forget that there is a rising level of malignancy or what is called cancer. If detected early, these are things that we can curb or at least not allowed to get to a very high rate that seems to be the emerging trend.
That brings us to the issue of cancer. There appears to be an increase in cancer cases in the country. What is the cause and way out?
At the moment, in the world, there seems to be cancer epidemic, more in Africa and some of its surrounding communities. One of the things has to be cultural we believe is good health, seems to be the real framework why many are having cancer. We in this part of the world believe that when we are big or obese, that we are doing well. It is a wrong judgement. Obesity now seems to be the foundation of most of the cancers. Far more than before, cancer is becoming to be associated with obesity. And so, this are part of the non-communicable diseases that we are now suffering from. If we can watch our weight, watch what we eat, and exercise more, we would be on a perfect health and the incidence of cancer would be reduced.
Also, what is your advice on the issue of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases?
Well, again, obesity is a monster. Most people who are obese would develop sugar, which is called diabetes. Most people who have sugar trouble are those who would eventually have heart problems. Apart from the fact that high blood pressure can happen to anybody, most of the time we don’t know why people develop hypertension. But it is something related genetically that runs in the family. And the two are hydra-headed – diabetes and hypertension. The two coming together would lead to problem of the vessels which is call cardiovascular systems. And this results to increased chance of stroke, heart failure as well as kidney failure. So, it is better we nip it at the bud. Most of these things are preventable. I mentioned obesity, living healthy, making sure you eat only what is important, and making sure you cut down your weight, would lead to very good reduction level of obesity and consequently diabetes would also be nipped at the blood. In terms of high blood pressure, knowing what to eat and not adding too much salt to our food, trying to do health screening and finding out what is wrong with your health. When you seemingly look well, you might not be that well. All these would make us have a chance of what our health look like and be able to do what is right to fix it before it gets to an advanced stage. On a general note, every year, wherever we are, gender wise, age wise, you must at least go and see the doctor and see our score card. But as the age increases, maybe for those who are above 70 years, twice a year is okay to see a doctor, even if you have no health condition or you believe you are on the top of your health. You still need to see a doctor for general check up, twice a year, once we are advancing in our age. Otherwise, once a year seems good enough.
The incessant strike by health practitioners is a concern to a lot of people. What do you think can be done address this?
I think most discordant attitudes can be resolved on communication. The Ministry of Health is the most volatile ministry because health is taken care of by many team. If government can allow the team players to have a forum where things can be trashed out, where transparency can be looked into and where people can partner together and focus on the issue of helping others to sustain a good health, then many of these strikes would not happen. I am aware that sometimes it is based on money, but even issues that revolve round funding can be resolved through constructive dialogue.
What can you tell us about Olive Multi-Specialist Hospitals?
Olive Multi-Specialist Hospital is an emerging institution. It is a new institution that was set up to cater for the healthcare of all. It is premised on the basis of giving healthcare priority, making sure that we can face most of our problems if we solve them early, getting the right equipment to match with the right attitude and addressing most illnesses before they become advanced. It is also looking at variety of specialities and things that would happen to us that would take us outside. In the long-run, the focus is to improve the health sector quality-wise and to be able to deliver services that hitherto, we were looking for abroad and bring training as a common factor to improve the quality of the healthcare system. That is what Olive Multi-Specialist Hospitals is all about at it caters for people with stroke, heart failures, diabetes and metabolic diseases, weight reduction and looking at health from all angles, including some of the rebuilding surgeries, changing of structures in the body such as the replacement of limbs and looking holistically at health with people who are involved in drug abuse and many other ailments that are emerging. These are the various outlets that we are now looking at health from at Olive Multi-Specialists Hospital. The level of manpower here is commensurate with the level of equipment we have. Every division of health is manned by the right people. There is also continuous training here.
Are you not concerned about the issue of medical tourism?
The issue of medical tourism has now taken a new dimension. In terms of the economy it is negative for the economy and there is loss of manpower. There is also the effect of transfer of economy. We need this volume to grow our own economy. Many times, it is because people feel that what they are getting there is better than what they are getting here at Olive Multi-Specialist Hospital. Part of what we are set out to do is to see how we can stem out the tide of medical tourism.
What is the target for the next five years?
In five years, we are going to change the surface of health, by making sure that gadgets that can improve our healthcare are available and by making sure that the manpower are available and we are going to do training by partnering people in the diaspora. We must develop our healthcare system and even turn Nigeria into a place for medical tourism. It used to be that when we had the University Teaching Hospitals serving many areas and we can only do that by improving the health sector.