“Diabetes has already affected 26% of Pakistan’s total population and it does not include the number of people who are unaware of the disease which makes it to a total of 30% population being affected”
Safety & Security Today had a conversation with Dr. Asjad Hameed – Chairman, Board of Directors of The Diabetes Centre.
Safety & Security Today (S&ST): With an extensive experience of more than 30 years as a Medical Doctor, can you please tell us how did the journey start and how it elevated towards a specialization in diabetes?
Dr. Asjad Hameed (AH): I graduated as a Medical Doctor from Liaquat Medical College (Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences – LUMHS), Jamshoro, Sindh. But before that, while being raised in Hyderabad, Sindh, and belonging to a family of seasoned doctors, I grew up idealizing my elders. It is through them, I learnt what hard work and compassion is and their legacy strives me to serve the community tirelessly.
Since the early days, I always wanted to be the doctor who has command on his subject and treats patients with expertise. To gain experience, I went to England in 1992 and did a Post Graduate Degree in Medicine. Afterwards, I went to Republic of Ireland, where I worked in a number of well-known institutes and hospitals as a registrar from which I learnt a lot about diseases, infections, medicines, etc. After gaining much experience, I returned to UK for my specialization in Diabetes and Endocrine Diseases. As my specialization completed, I did the National Training Number (NTN) post training, it is a competitive exam much like service commission, to become a certified consultant. I worked as a consultant in UK for a few years but I always had a passion of serving my own people and for the reason of being closer to home, I moved to Abu Dhabi as a consultant of Diabetes and Endocrine Diseases at Imperial College London Diabetes Center. I worked there for 12 years and frequently visited Pakistan. During my visits, I saw an emerging pattern of diabetes on an alarming scale, this pushed me to get back to my country and help my own people with all the experience I gained.
S&ST: Proudly representing Pakistan in so many countries and on such prestigious appointments, how do you think the experience evolved you as a person? Also, please comment on how do you think medical education in the Western World differs from that of Pakistan?
AH: Allah has been very kind for bestowing me with the knowledge and expertise. It is my humble nature that kept me progressing, at least that’s what I believe. Working with so many dedicated and professional doctors on an international platform taught me how to be a better doctor. Talking about a simple difference between us and them, they possess more of practical knowledge and we are mostly relying over theories. The training abroad also reflects more practicality and ethics of treatment. One thing that I admire the most is that they treat patients as their guests. The experience abroad has instilled a better ethical approach in me towards the patient and their treatment alongside the experience.
Medical education in the western world equips you with a lot of hands-on experience. As a medical student, western world provides you with the practical knowledge of how things work out, how research is supposed to be done, how risk is mitigated, what are work ethics, how patients are treated and much more. Talking of Pakistan, our prime focus is on theoretical knowledge whereas if we look the other way, we have a lot of diversified experience in terms of the number of patients as compared to the west. We can benefit our learning and practices from this as much as we want.
S&ST: Considering your expertise in Diabetes and Endocrine Diseases, please share your viewpoint on the spread of such diseases in Pakistan, what are the main causes?
AH: Talking of diabetes in Pakistan, I would say that it has actually become a disaster. It has already affected 26% of our total population and it does not include the number of people who are unaware of the disease which makes it to a total of 30% to 35% of population being affected. This huge number reflects the poor lifestyle habits and routines of our society and their lack of education/awareness of healthy nutritional needs. We need serious awareness campaigns to educate masses on these problems.
Our food habits represent high intake of carbohydrates, fast food, sweets, etc. which all elevates to diabetes. Even in children, we see that the lifestyle choices have changed, they are not engaging in sports activities, which used to be a mandatory thing to do after school but now the urge of playing sports has kind of faded away, rather the focus has diverted towards after school studies (tuitions) due to increasing competition amongst the students.
Resultantly the parents find it easy to get food on the go (junk food) for snacks/lunch/dinner. I have illustrated the example to tell you what our future generation is doing to themselves and on the contrary, the Government lacks the funding to provide excess facilities to treat them for many unforeseen diseases. Although it has become a cliché but prevention is truly better than the cure. The media also has to step up to educate masses in this regard.
S&ST: As the Chairman Board of Directors of The Diabetes Center, in what ways do you think the organization has developed under your leadership?
AH: I must say it was a great challenge but I consider myself lucky, by the grace of Almighty that I have been blessed with a very devoted and dedicated team. All of the team members including my partners, the board members and the contributors are very hardworking and very close to my vision which has turned this as a huge success. I’m always looking forward to their contribution in decision making and we go for what the majority decides and accordingly we appreciate the efforts of each and every member. All of this has been possible because of the blessings of Allah almighty, it is because of Him that we have setup this facility and running it seamlessly. It makes me more down to earth and humble.
S&ST: How is The Diabetes Center envisioning to cater to the growing problem of diabetes in Pakistan?
AH: It is a massive challenge for us to cater this enormous problem. Pakistan being a developing country, is unable to look after this issue by providing separate dedicated health facilities. This makes us (TDC) a major player for mitigating this cumbersome task. As discussed earlier, diabetes has become a health emergency and regardless of the increasing number of pateints coming we are also covering the expenses for the underprivileged. This is a huge slogan to carry, when it comes to funding, but we are doing our best even in this period of hyperinflation. Our main vision is to educate and create awareness among masses regarding diabetes and how it can be controlled by simple ways. The problem is so big that we will be required to expand our facilities to help as many people as we can. TDC has not even touched Sindh, Balochistan and KPK, to do so we need more people to give us donations. Our vision to establishing ourselves on root level is very simple, instead of bringing your patients to us, with small chapters of TDC on district level, let us come to you. Very soon we will have state of the art facilities in Lahore, Sahiwal and Khanewal, thanks to the donors who provided us with free of cost land to establish our premises and enough donations to kick off . As we are expanding locally, we are also looking for people who share the same vision, so we can reach out to the remote areas of Pakistan. TDC has international chapters in UK, Australia, Canada and the USA.
S&ST: How do you facilitate the patients who are unable to manage funds for treatment, what parameters are adopted to cover their expenses.
AH: The foundation of TDC was based on the vision that we wanted to do something for the deserving underprivileged people and provide them with the best facilities. We have categorized such patients as those who qualify for Zakat and the others who can take some burden of the cost associated to their treatment. Talking of people who qualify as zakat patients, they are given all the facilities free of cost, including medicines. Talking of the middle-class community, they are provided with sufficient relief and usually half the cost of the treatment or medicines are borne by us and half by them.
This all has become possible through the dedication of the core team. We pool-in our own zakat into the system and many of us are working on fi-sabilillah basis, we don’t draw salary out of the TDC. The CEO of TDC, Mr. Tahir Abbasi donated his personal land for TDC and also works without salary. We also collect zakat from all over the world for this noble cause. At present, the ratio of paid and zakat patients is 40% and 60% respectively, for us this is a major achievement.
S&ST: Please share a message for the youth on how they can maintain a healthy lifestyle?
AH: I would like to convey to the readers that we need to eat healthy, maintain weight as per the body mass index and reduce the intake of carbohydrates. We need to start walking at least 3 hours a week and be physically active as much as possible. Avoid fast food and fizzy drinks, as tempting it may be but it is not good for our health. Make any one day of the week a cheat day, because one does gets tempted, and that’s all right but my suggestion is to never over indulge. Plain and simple water, should be the “in” drink. Lastly, I always insist on this “Be Happy”. It’s the nature of my work that I see so many people depressed or have severe anxiety issues. We all need to understand the importance of mental health.