The Business Year

Dr Saf Naqvi

UAE, ABU DHABI - Health & Education

A Healthy Option

Medical Director, Imperial College London Diabetes Centre

Bio

While harboring a special interest in thyroid disorders and insulin treatment, Dr Saf Naqvi also carries out complex hormone investigations. He is a Certified General and Metabolic Physician, specializing in management of hormone disorders. Dr Saf, as he is affectionately known by colleagues and patients, brings with him a wealth of experience, gathered from a career in the UK. Having led diabetes care in hospitals and the community, he has helped develop high standards wherever he has been. He was appointed Deputy Chairman to the newly-created Medical Board at ICLDC in 2013, and made Medical Director of ICLDC in 2015.

TBY talks to Dr Saf Naqvi, Medical Director, Consultant Physician, and Endocrinologist at Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, on diabetes in the UAE, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

Why is diabetes so prevalent in the UAE?

There is more than one reason. If we benchmark Type I diabetes, for example, against the global market, it’s not significantly higher. We don’t have that big of a problem with Type I, which mainly affects children. Our biggest problem is with Type II. Type II is lifestyle-related—diet and exercise. As the UAE and its neighbors embarked on a rapid development, the traditional and somewhat simple diet synonymous with the region, was swiftly joined by fast-food products on every corner. In tandem, as the city infrastructure developed, the uptake of an exercise practice seemed to wane in general. The result is that the nationwide obesity rate is on the high side. Indeed, it is a regional issue, with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia very much alert to the challenge. In general, people walk a lot in Europe; much more than here.

How do you make exercise part of the culture?

Imperial College London Diabetes Centre’s public health awareness campaign, “Diabetes-Knowledge-Action” has a year-round community outreach calendar. We go to schools and organizations with our Healthy Lifestyle interactive workshops; we host an annual walk—this year #Walk2015—and it is complemented by a nationwide grass roots campaign dubbed #TakeAStepForDiabetes. We also encourage companies and community associations to host simple, interactive activities, like “Take The Stairs” days, and we encourage all of our patients to see a specialist nurse, lifestyle educator, as well as our dietitians as part of ICLDC’s diabetes management care. Our treatment includes not only medication, but the full spectrum of care for diabetes.

What strategies do you promote to prevent or reverse diabetes?

We have a very active outreach program. We do shows on TV and interviews on the radio, and run an extensive calendar of events. When it comes to the diabetes message, our PR campaign tends to account for more than 40% of the media voice, more than any other organization. We place emphasize on building knowledge through education and awareness and encouraging action through the calendar of activities. Continuous education is extremely important to us. Through our link with Imperial College London (ICL) we host a lot of speakers at our conferences for the medical sector. The conferences are held here at the center and elsewhere in the capital. We also host an Advanced Diabetes Conference every year.

What are the benchmarks you look at to assess the success of your Centre?

We keep track of all the important indicators for diabetes, and we publish an annual outcomes report. HbA1c is the best indicator of controlled diabetes versus uncontrolled diabetes. If the value is seven or below, that is considered controlled diabetes. It decreases the risk of cardio complication, kidney failure, and other related conditions. If it’s above that, it’s considered uncontrolled diabetes. We also keep track of the lipid profile (cholesterol) and cardiac risk profile. BMI and blood pressure are also monitored. Of course, we also have targets for patient satisfaction and communications outreach, as well as targets for physicians’ education and staff education. That’s something we take very seriously.

What is your outlook for the future? What will it take to reduce the number of patients with diabetes in the UAE?

It will take an ongoing commitment to education, and it has to start at a young age. We engage with children of all ages, some as young as five or six years old, and we talk to them about a healthy lifestyle. We encourage them to join sports teams and be active. We host celebrities to help reinforce our healthy lifestyle message. It’s been successful. In 2013 we had Laila Ali, the boxing champion and daughter of Muhammed Ali. She came and talked to the kids and she did a great job. Recently we hosted US All-Star basketball legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It’s something these kids won’t forget easily. The target right now is to prevent diabetes from happening by encouraging people to take responsibility for their own health and realize that this disease is preventable.

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