As Qatar contends with a growing obesity problem, thousands of residents here are turning to radical weight loss surgeries for help.
The demand is so high that some 2,000 people in Qatar had bariatric surgery last year, while 3,000 more were waitlisted for the procedure.
Some of those on the waitlist, tired of waiting for the state-subsidized surgery, opted to go overseas for treatment, a decision that healthcare officials are now saying could be dangerous.
Recently, three Qatar residents who traveled abroad for weight loss surgeries suffered complications and died, a Hamad Medical Corp. (HMC) bariatric surgeon said during a press conference yesterday. And some 19 others have suffered complications in the past six months.
Dr. Jamal Rashid al-Khanji, director of healthcare quality and patient safety at the Supreme Council of Health (SCH), warned residents of the risks of having weight loss surgery abroad, saying unqualified surgeons and unsterilized equipment often lead to serious issues.
Quoted in Gulf Times, he said:
“This may be the tip of the iceberg, as these are cases reported to HMC and there might be many other cases which are not reported at all.”
In response to growing safety concerns and demand, Qatar has become the first country in the region to cover bariatric surgery under its national health insurance scheme (Seha).
Al Khanji said a small number of private hospitals would accept Seha insurance to cover the cost of the surgery – which is upwards of QR50,000. But he did not disclose the names of these hospitals, and Seha has yet to update its website with the new information.
In the past, bariatric surgeries were conducted at the public Hamad and Al Wakrah hospitals and covered by the government for Qatari residents.
Seha, Qatar’s universal healthcare system, currently provides Qatari nationals with free healthcare, paid for by the government. It is being rolled out in stages, with employers expected to cover insurance payments for expats by 2015.
Qatar’s overweight population
The uptake of bariatric surgery is particularly high for Qatar’s small population of just 2.2 million, when compared to countries like Japan where 200 such surgical operations are performed each year from a population of 127 million, said Mohamed Al Kuwari, bariatric surgery consultant at HMC.
According to Dr. Moataz Bashah, acting chief of the bariatric department at HMC, Qatar’s youngest patient for bariatric surgery was a 13-year-old boy. Another patient who underwent the procedure weighed 630kg.
Around 70 percent of those undergoing bariatric surgery in Qatar are women, particularly of concern for the small local population because obesity can have an adverse affect on women’s ability to conceive.
Qatar is one of the fattest nations in the world, with 76 percent of its adult men and 79 percent of its adult women clinically overweight or obese, according to findings of a recent survey published by medical journal The Lancet.
A body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more is considered overweight, while those with a BMI of 30 or more are obese.
Weight loss surgery options
In a bid to tackle their weight problem, many people in Qatar opt for to have surgery to limit their intake of food.
There are a number of methods of doing this. The most common ways are to have a gastric band fitted, which creates a smaller stomach pouch so a patient will feel full after eating just a small amount of food.
Gastric sleeve is one of the more recent versions of the surgery, and is recommended for people who are very overweight, with a BMI of 50 or more. It involves the stomach being stapled stomach laparoscopically, to create a smaller cavity, with the excess stomach removed.
This procedure accounts for about 70 percent of Qatar’s bariatric surgery operations.
In addition to obesity problems, Qatar has a high incidence of diabetes, with nearly a quarter of the population affected by the disease.
Gastric bypass is often used on patients with Type 2 diabetes, and reduces the amount of food a patient can eat by creating just a small opening between the stomach pouch and the small intestine. Around 30 percent of patients in Qatar undergoing weight loss surgery have this procedure.
HMC was the first hospital in the Middle East to recently use a new type of laparoscopic gastric bypass adjustment surgery to help extremely obese patients lose weight.
“Another patient who underwent the procedure weighed 630kg”- This can’t be right…?
The real problem with such surgeries is not the surgery itself, but the aftercare and dietary restrictions that follow. Improperly managed, individuals in the years that follow can suffer all sorts of health reasons unless they follow a strict health and diet routine. In fact, some people even GAIN weight afterwards.
Because lack of self control contributed to the obesity in the first place, these people typically do not have a great deal of will power and, therefore, need greater medical support. My guess is that if Qataris treat this like many other safety and medical advice issues (i.e. road safety, children’s seatbelts, school attendance, and good nutrition), personal discipline in following the strict after-surgery regimen is poor. Having the surgery abroad means that they are not necessarily being properly screened, are not fully aware of the post-surgery hardships, and do not have a supporting medical team in place in Qatar to ensure good aftercare.
NEWS FLASH: If you want to lose weight, it is not that complicated folks: Eat less; exercise more.
I’m sure we have all been at Carrefour and seen a shopping cart stroll past us with basically half of the candy aisle in it, and no fruits and veg in sight.
It is not that hard to eat properly, so just do it! I will admit it is harder to work out properly in this country with the heat (I prefer outdoor jogging to gyms, so the summer here kills that). But resorting to surgery is just LAZY unless all other options have been exhausted and for whatever reason they are not working (genetic etc.)
By the way, this weight loss advice is free, no scam here 🙂
I agree that in some cases, people do choose the lazy, and what they think is the easy way out, but it’s not really always the case. I know some people who had these type of surgeries, and believe they tried to lose weight using conventional means, it just didn’t work out.
These type of surgeries are quite common in the U.S. and elsewhere, even though the weather is better there, and it’s easier to eat healthy.
Trust me Abdulrahman, this comment was NOT directed at Qatar, I know so many people in the US that have had this operation over the past 10 years or so, and I have seen it backfire in many cases. For every 1 person that really needs the surgery, there are 100 that have it just because they are lazy.
My comment about the weather in Qatar is actually in defense of Qatar because it is so much harder to get physical exercise here. When I moved here 2 years ago, I gained a bit of weight because I found it so difficult to do get my usual physical activity in the heat. About a year ago I stopped making excuses and got myself back into jogging and I am now back at the weight I was when I moved here, but the weather does bring on quite a challenge for us outdoor joggers.
lol I didn’t take it to be directed at Qatar. What I meant is that some people just cannot seem to get in the habit of exercising and eating healthy even when they try. Call it an addiction if you well. I believe it’s psychological to a large degree, and that genetics also play a role; both in how the body metabolizes food as well as our responding to stress by over eating.
It really is too bad that we hardly have any known good psychiatrists and therapists who could help people deal with their issues.
Well said, I completely agree with you, for many people it is like an addiction which is largely psychological, and I think that is the fundamental flaw with surgeries like this, it is not addressing the underlying psychological issue. Great comment!
I believe it to be a lack of education in Health & Wellness, which plays a big role in these statistics. Women feeling uncomfortable to workout in public, the intense heat and attitudes towards ones health are also factors.
I think any person who has a government willing to pay for such surgeries will continue to ignore being responsible for their own health and this unfortunate practice will continue!
Added to your point above, show me your friends and i will tell you who you are. many a times, friend also determine your eating habit. Also, i notice here in Qatar people feel offended if you refuse food offer from them. so, many people accept the offer even when they are not hungry and don’t need to eat in that moment.
As if these were not enough, many people eat and drink tea, nuts, biscuit, chips MORE when they feel like putting something in their mouth after normal meal when what they actually need is to drink more water to feel ok and full. Now am not saying nuts, biscuit and chips are not good. i eat all these things in moderation, try to drink more water and eat less + no heavy dinner.
You are right. “Eat less; exercise more” i eat all foods but i try as much as possible to eat and drink less + drink lot of water which i think is even more important but unfortunately, from my experience here in Qatar, people drink more tea, Pepsi and coffee and less water + eat dinner 9, 10, 11 pm late in the night. This is not peculiar to Qatar, common in the US and Europe also.
630 kg? Surely that’s a misprint. Surely that was meant to be 630 pounds? 630 kg = 1389 pounds! That’s not possible… is it? Got to be 630 pounds…
Looks like that would make him the second heaviest person on record according to wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_heaviest_people