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‘Majority of what makes us well has very little to do with doctors’

Simisola Alabi is a UK-based medical doctor, speaker, teacher, healthcare leader, mum and wife. The Class of 2000 graduate of Medicine at the University of Lagos, now practices Clinical Medicine in the United Kingdom where she also teaches future general practitioners and leading various public sector projects in healthcare. In this interview, Dr. Alabi, who has been in the frontline for the fight against Covid-19, speaks to OBINNA EMELIKE on wellness, life expectancy, healthcare financing, vaccines and other related issues. Excerpt:

Having heard so much about you, it is good to meet you. But who really is Dr. Simisola Alabi?

Thank you so much. I am Dr. Monica Simisola Alabi. I am a woman with a deep passion for learning and growing daily. Medicine happens to be a path but I have many other interests. I believe women should live in the fullest expression of themselves as this has a great impact on their families and friends. I am keen on wholesome leadership and I speak on a wide range of topics.

How has it been since year 2000 when you left Lagos University Teaching Hospital?

It has been challenging yet exhilarating. My initial plan was to relocate to Abuja from Lagos and specialise at the National Hospital, which did not quite work out. I stayed in Lagos for my Housemanship and Youth Service and subsequently relocated to the United Kingdom. I have maintained close links with home.

Of course, you are a doctor, speaker, teacher, healthcare leader, mum and wife. How do you combine the roles and still excel in your work and passion?

I believe we are called to live our lives to the fullest on this planet earth. Every day you wake up is a gift and a new chance to take opportunities that are aligned with your purpose and to give fully yourself. I am so grateful for the various roles I have and I do my best daily. There is no need to be perfect so I make sure I get plenty of support.

You have also been in the frontline for the fight against Covid-19, how has it been risking your life to save others?

As medics, we really do not think about our own lives when it comes to our patients. When you are in your medical role, your first concern is for your patient. It does not mean that I don’t look after myself, I take the appropriate precautions which at this time includes wearing personal protective equipment, washing hands and minimising close contact with others. We commit the rest to the divine.

Do you think vaccines are the solution to Covid-19 and what is the situation now in the UK with the vaccines in place?

Most of us have never witnessed a pandemic and we have been very lucky to have been able to develop vaccines in record time. Vaccines are one of several solutions in this situation. Nigeria has recently received the Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine while the UK is set to complete vaccinations of all eligible people by July 2021.

What we have seen is a decline in the number of people dying from COVID particularly in those over 80. We have also noted that a single shot reduces hospitalisation rate by 80 percent.

While these are good news, we must continue to be vigilant and take other measures to prevent catching and spreading the virus.

You noted that doctors only contribute to 10-15% of our overall health, and that you are interested in exploring the rest. What are the rest?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 60 percent of factors that contribute to individual health and quality of life are related to lifestyle. The majority of what makes us well has very little to do with doctors.

This means that you are responsible for the majority of your own health. There are instances beyond our control and I have seen many in my career where there is no explanation for the disease.

In most other situations, if we can make good choices, those go a long way. Smoking, diet, alcohol, exercise all have an impact on your physical and mental health. The environment we live in and our socioeconomic status also have an influence. We have also seen the relationship between vitamins and COVID so vitamins and supplements also play a part.

What I also want to continually explore are some of the practices that people have that improve their health, so if you have a health secret, some may have been passed down through generations, please share.

With the challenges people face in Africa, do you think they can still live long and what is life expectancy now in Africa and can it be improved?

Life expectancy in Africa is 62 years on average but within that is a huge disparity between countries where Algeria has a life expectancy of 78 years compared to places like Lesotho and Zambia in the early 50s.

In Nigeria, life expectancy has improved very slowly and at 60years now, we still have a lot to do. We want to increase healthy life expectancy so that people can thrive healthier for longer.

We need to improve access to good primary healthcare which is the bedrock of a sound health system. Our healthcare financing also needs to be improved as one serious illness can send a family into poverty. That is why prevention is so important.

You seem to be interested in wellness, health policy and philanthropy. Why and do you have other passions?

My own definition of wellness is being in a state of peak performance. Much like a well looked after sports car. This means you have to pay attention to every aspect of yourself and in particular your mental health. You must learn to take charge of your thoughts, feelings and actions and if these are not in control, to seek help. I am very passionate about wellness because I want to see you thrive and not just survive.

I went back to study Health Policy at Imperial College and graduated in 2019 though I had already been working in policy before then. I went back because I felt that for doctors and other people in the health sector to be able to influence health outcomes for the population, we have to be thinking not just about the patient in front of us but about the population at large. We have to be thinking about the most good for the most number of people. I am passionate about health systems and how to improve them.

I have no choice but to be involved in giving back. When I was in my teenage years, an amazing woman protected and championed me and I promised to give back to others and I am simply fulfilling that promise. People think you have to be a billionaire to give back but you don’t. Start where you are but also think about how to give in the most impactful way.

If you were not a doctor, what would you have been?

It is funny as it could be no further from my current path. I would have been a fashion editor for a leading magazine because it would combine my love for travel, fashion and analysis of trends. I love singing too, who knows, I may still try that.

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