By Sharon Atieno

A multi-disciplinary team of surgeons, doctors and nurses successfully carried out the first surgery for obesity of its kind in a public hospital.

The doctors in a one and a half hour operation time were able to do a sleeve gastrectomy on a 66 year old man, John Muthama, at the Kenyatta National Hospital.

The sleeve gastrectomy is a procedure that involves the removal of about 80 percent of the stomach leaving a tube-shaped stomach the size of a banana. This restricts the amount of food a person is able to consume which consequently leads to a weight loss.

Obesity is a leading contributor to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes and heart diseases. About 15 percent of Kenya’s population suffers from obesity.

“As more Kenyans are living sedentary lives, more Kenyans are getting diabetes, obese, hypertensive and sizes that they can hardly control such as this case,” noted Dr. Evanson Kamuri, the acting chief executive officer (CEO) at Kenyatta National Hospital in a press briefing.

A press briefing at Kenyatta National Hospital, CEO at centre, Dr. Ondede (right next to him)

“Sedentary lives and unhealthy food habits are predisposing Kenyans to non-communicable diseases,” Dr. Kennedy Ondede, the lead surgeon in Muthama’s surgery pointed out.

Before the surgery Muthama was weighing 176 kilograms with a body mass index (BMI) of 59.5kg/m2 and had been diagnosed with class III obesity.

The BMI is a combination of a person’s height and weight and forms a measure that can help predict their risk of developing diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the healthy range for adults is a BMI between 18.5 -24.9 kg/m2. A BMI of 25 to 29.9kg/m2 is overweight while that of 30kg/m2 and above is considered as obese.  

“Two weeks after the surgery he has lost 10 kilograms, in three months we will be able to see more progress,” Dr. Kamuri said.

The patient recovering after the successful operation

More than 50 weight loss operations are carried out in Kenya while more than a 100 Kenyans travel abroad to places such as India and South Africa for such.

A weight loss surgery is an expensive procedure costing about ksh. 1.5 million. Most Kenyans are not able to afford and the national health insurance fund (NHIF) cover does not cater for it.

“In other countries, government funds obesity treatment. Insurance should come in and support these patients like any other patients,” stated Dr. Ondede. “NHIF should consider funding this type of operation.”

Kenyatta National Hospital’s C.E.O has said that the hospital has the capacity including facilities and specialists to carry out different weight loss surgeries and even at a cheaper price.

“The cost of materials, theatre and intensive care unit (ICU) is lying below kshs. 500, 000,” notes Dr. Ondede in an interview when asked about the treatment cost of Muthama’s surgery.

In this maiden bariatric surgery, the Kenyatta National Hospital will foot the patient’s bill. As Muthama is being discharged today, he notes that he is very happy because he will be able to walk.

When he came to the hospital before the surgery, he was experiencing several complications including not being able to walk as his legs were swollen and heavy, and he had pain in his knees.

“I could not walk, I used to be carried from the house and back,” says Muthama.

The other surgeries to lose weight include: removal of a portion of the stomach portion to make the cavity small enough to accommodate just a small amount of food, bypass surgery (looping small intestine on to the stomach that has already been halved in that way a mal absorption is  created and the patient starts to lose weight because of that mal absorption), banding (tying a portion of stomach to make it small) and balloon (putting balloon in the stomach endoscopically thus reducing space available for stomach to accommodate food).