x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Bariatric surgery is for extreme cases

The plan to regulate bariatric surgery makes a lot of sense.

Demand for bariatric surgery is soaring in the UAE, as obesity rates reach staggering levels. Being gravely overweight can open the door to serious problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

That helps explain why increasing numbers of people are opting for this apparently easy remedy, often after several failed attempts to lose weight through exercise and healthy diet. In Dubai's Rashid Hospital alone, doctors performed 40 bariatric surgeries in just one month of 2012, and had 240 patients on the waiting list.

But the operation can have serious side effects and experts say it should be only the last resort. That is why the decision by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi to regulate this surgery is welcome news.

As The National reported at the weekend, the authority is set to introduce rules that will govern eligibility for the operation, and the qualifications to be required of surgeons who perform it.

The rules will also standardise norms of treatment and diagnosis and reporting data. For years, experts have been calling for national guidelines to regulate bariatric surgery.

In specific cases, this operation can help a person to start afresh when other options are not available. Friday's report on the case of Sawsan Ibrahim, for example, showed that some people can reach a stage where exercise is not possible. Then surgery, often recommended for obese patients with a body mass index (BMI) above 40, can become necessary.

But not everyone who wants the surgery has exhausted the alternatives.

Another advantage of the regulations is in the matter of insurance. The operation is considered to be treatment in certain cases, but insurance companies have refused to cover it, deeming it to be cosmetic surgery. The new regulations should mean that insurers will cover the cost, which exceeds Dh50,000, when the operation is medically indicated.

Guidelines must also leave room for extreme cases that may not comply with set rules. Restrictive regulations, in cases that require flexibility, may lead a patient to unhealthy measures. As one doctor noted, a patient with a BMI that does not quite qualify could even resort to deliberately putting on more weight. New regulations should be tied to efforts to raise awareness about the advantages of a healthy lifestyle. Only when surgery is seen for what is - a last resort - will this problem be addressed.