Dr Khan opens up on Newcastle’s medical world and health challenges


The local medical sector is a constantly evolving and expanding industry, trumping numerous other fields in its persistent progression. Driven by necessity and upheld by dedicated practitioners, we chat with Specialist Physician Dr Mohamed Ali Khan

Discussing this sphere and various health issues hindering people’s lives throughout the community, Dr Khan believes that the local medical industry has done exceptionally well over the past five to ten years. 

With this growth, significantly more services became available to the community. As the doctor affirms, a lot more than when he began 10 years ago.

“We now have neurosurgery, we have a neurologist, there are two surgeons and three physicians. There was a time where I was the only physician. The other physician had unexpectantly left. A significant burden was placed on me, and to be honest, I was glad when the other two physician had joined Mediclinic Newcastle. In addition to the relief, Dr Khan states, “it allows the community to receive quality service and treatment.”

We try to work well together to not just improve the service we provide, but also for our own wellbeing. Sharing the workload is important to balance work and our family lives.

Moreover, Dr Khan says that in terms of medical advancement and improvement in Newcastle, a project launched with the assistance of Mediclinic is set to optimize the way antibiotics are prescribed. “I chair this committee and with the assistance of nurses and pharmacists we are trying to promote excellence in antibiotic usage to prevent overzealous antibiotic prescriptions in the community and within the hospital.”

Zooming further into local public health, Dr Khan was asked where the average Newcastillian falls short in terms of health consciousness?

The doctor’s response is straightforward: Diet.

“I think it comes back to; we are what we eat. What you put in, is going to be what comes out.

If we can just get people to eat better, we will see change.” Magnifying on the point, the doctor says, eating healthier has the capacity to not just improve many chronic conditions, but also prevent them altogether.

With this discerning fact being an eye-opener and numerous misperceptions swirling around, he further notes that most people who are likely to eat unhealthily are not the poor but rather those with increased disposable income. Often reaching for hyper-calorie foods like fast foods, ignoring widely available dietary requirement information, these people tend to consume volumes of unhealthy products.

Similarly, according to Dr Khan, many people continue to consume carbohydrate-rich foods like maise-based products. While these foods provided energy for previous generations whose lifestyles were quite physical, most people today are pen-pushers and are unable to burn this increased volume of energy like their predecessors.

“The obesity epidemic in South Africa is developing. We are always behind the West by a couple of years, maybe a decade or two. But you can see what is happening in the US, and we are just going to follow, Dr Khan declares.

Given the importance of General Practitioners (GPs) in people’s daily lives, he emphasises that GPs hold a significant duty to their patients. This, as GPs, engage more with their patients than Specialists. Therefore, they should emphasize the important role that healthy eating has in the holistic management of many chronic diseases.

The unhealthy diet and excessive weight gain often lead to an issue often overlooked – Sleep Apnoea.

Dr Khan says that when patients are asked about their symptoms, they frequently state that they are tired, are sleepy by the mid – to – late afternoon, and battle with maintaining focus and concentration. These symptoms are vague, doctors often overlook them, resulting in countless underdiagnosed sleep apnoea cases.

But what are the consequences of undiagnosed sleep apnoea? 

“Work performance goes down and chronic fatigue syndrome sets in.

Studies have shown that sleep apnoea acts as a steppingstone for high blood pressure, diabetes, sexual dysfunction, depression and insomnia.” People with sleep apnoea generally must wait until they are completely exhausted before falling asleep. While some may argue that they get the hours of sleep in, he emphasises that it is not quantity of sleep but rather constant changes in sleep states i.e. the quality. 

People with sleep apnoea do not get good-quality sleep, so they are often tired and not alert. This puts them at risk for car accidents and other types of accidents.

So what is sleep apnoea, and how does it affect you?

Sleep apnoea is a condition that makes you stop breathing for short periods while you are asleep.

In obstructive sleep apnoea, you stop breathing because your throat narrows or closes. People with sleep apnoea do not know that they stop breathing when they are asleep. But they do sometimes wake up startled or gasping for breath. They also often hear from loved ones that they snore.

With little awareness surrounding sleep apnoea, no medication, and no actual medical treatment except weight loss, proper diets and healthy lifestyles are your only option to avoid further health issues and physical exhaustion. 

However, Dr Khan emphasises the importance of avoiding extremes, recommending keeping things simple to maintain a clean lifestyle. “If you can burn off more than what you put into your body, you will be fine,” he says.

Living in a world laden with technologies such as smartwatches and Fitbits, he says that monitoring your calorie intake and movement, tracking your progress, could not be easier. 

Where does Dr Khan see the community in the next five years if people do not change their lifestyles?

When looking at the circumstances of our community and his patient’s profiles, he sees many older people who raise their grandchildren. While the parents of these young children earn a living in the more urban areas or larger cities. As a result, grandparents are frequently responsible for their grandchildren, teaching them poor, often outdated eating habits.

These old school principles around eating are not relevant today. People are not spending all that energy, but rather storing it. To emphasise the point, Dr Khan quotes Albert Einstein, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another.” In this case, this means, excessive food stores as fat. 

Whether due to a lack of understanding or the ease and convenience with which unhealthier foods can be obtained—Dr Khan believes that an entirely new generation is not being taught the importance of proper nutrition. Sadly, this makes it difficult to predict where our community is headed unless drastic measures are taken.

Weight loss is directly related to the difference between the individual’s energy intake and energy expenditure. Reducing our caloric intake below expenditure should result in a predictable loss of weight, that is related to the energy deficit.

The goal of any diet is to reduce the total number of calories consumed.

There is no one single diet that fits all patients; there are a variety of dietary strategies that can be effective in reducing calorie intake and promoting weight loss.

Patients often need guidance in choosing the dietary strategy that is the right fit for them, based on their usual eating habits and food preferences.

Although many individuals have success losing weight with diet, most subsequently regain much or all of the lost weight. Since long-term adherence to a weight-maintaining diet is probably the most important determinant of success, the optimal weight-maintaining diet will depend upon preference and individual factors. Exercise and behavioural interventions also may help individuals maintain weight loss.

Making any diet part of your lifestyle will improve sustainability and hence mean improved outcomes in the long term.

We have to give healthy eating the importance it deserves and make it part of our daily lives. Those who have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find time for illness.

This post and content is sponsored and provided by Dr MA Khan – Specialist Physician.


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