Simisola Alabi, a young Nigerian medical doctor in the United Kingdom and a frontliner in the fight against the ravaging coronavirus is on a mission to make people live better and longer, writes Vanessa Obioha
“Doctors only contribute 10 to 15 percent of your overall health. I’m interested in exploring the rest,” is the popular mantra 43-year-old medical doctor Simisola Alabi lives by.
In her 20 years of working in the medical field, Alabi has found only one resonating truth: prevention and wellness have to be the answer to the future.
“I’ve seen how sick people can be and how painful and difficult it can be. For some illnesses, there’s no rhyme or reason. A few days ago I had a 20-year-old patient who suffered a brain tumour. He didn’t do anything to cause that. It just happened. But in most other illnesses, you can see the point where it starts.
“So rather than go through years of pain or difficulty, why don’t we choose a lifestyle or practice that will help you not get the disease, and even if you get it, it will help you live well with it. I always think that the answer to health is not really in the hands of doctors. The answer to good health is in the hands of the public,” she explained.
It’s not every day one hears such gospel from a medical doctor, but Alabi is not just any kind of doctor. Born to Nigerian parents, Alabi has studied medicine at all levels and lives a life predicated on the works of her mentor Dr. Yinka George. It was the late George who encouraged her to pursue a career in medicine when Maths posed a threat.
“I always wanted to study medicine from when I was very young, but I think as I got into my teens I kind of lost it. I just thought…,” she paused, then continued: “Well, I don’t really know Maths and in Nigeria, Maths was crucial for medicine and I thought I’ll just do something else. But I met Dr. Yinka George, who was my mentor, she’s still my mentor, she’s no longer alive. She knew I wanted to become a medic and I told her it’s not going to work for me because of Maths but she believed and assured me that I will become a doctor.”
Alabi eventually passed Maths but already filled in Biology as her course. She emerged the best in that department. Her colourful result was the conviction her mentor needed that Alabi ought to be a medic.
“If I wasn’t a medic, I will probably be in the fashion world. Maybe become the next Anna Wintour or do something in showbiz.” Today, she is a frontliner in the fight against the ravaging coronavirus in the UK, ensuring that vaccinations get to the right people. She also consults at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
Alabi had an enviable relationship with her mentor.
“She is a woman I don’t want people to forget,” she puts it succinctly, revealing that she wrote a book about her in 2020.
George who passed on over two decades ago, to her was a woman of many parts: a doctor, a mentor, and an entrepreneur. She described her as a leading woman of her time. So deep was their connection that to date, she still uses her stethoscope. In George, Alabi found the true meaning of wealth and success.
“First of all, she taught me that nobody is indispensable. Secondly, she taught me that for one to be truly wealthy, you have to be making an impact in the life of somebody else, because wealth in itself, really means nothing,” she stated.
“If we really look at money, by the time you have a house, you have a view, there’s really not much else you can do with it. But if you actually start something, if you start a business, you’re employing and supporting people, then that really creates an impact.”
It is this nugget that Alabi is using to preach her gospel of wellness. Through her Beyond Wealth Conference (BWC) founded in 2019, she is encouraging people to examine their life and make the right choices to live longer. It is her way of keeping her mentor’s dream alive. The conference avails her the opportunity to push for health policies, design, commissioning, and mentor young people.
In its maiden edition, the organisers awarded a scholarship to a medical student. Like her mentor, Alabi wears many hats: a teacher, writer, entrepreneur, healthcare leader mother, and wife.
In Nigeria, the Ondo State indigene found the condition of the primary healthcare appalling.
“I’ve been on the campaign in Nigeria for years. I kind of got fed up with primary healthcare. It is important to organise primary care so that every single person knows where they’re registered to. When a pandemic happens, we organise populations, and so we can only know the population through health records. We don’t have any structure, what we have is unfortunately messy, because the health centres are not well equipped, they’re not well staffed and primary care is not a recognised thing because of vested interests,” she lamented.
She added, “The way they are demanding Nigerians to register for BVN and NIN, they can do the same with health records.”
In the meantime, she is taking her campaign of wellness to Nigeria in an unusual manner.
“Wellness for me is divided into physical and mental wellness. They’re both linked obviously. Underpinning all of that are spiritual and financial wellness. But really, wellness is about your mental health and your physical health. Understanding your health helps you a lot in the long run. The whole essence of wellness is about understanding who you are when everything is taken away. I don’t like to tell people to go running or do one exercise, you just need to know that your body needs to move. Your body needs to be moving regularly and how you move it is entirely up to you.
“Some people would like to go for walks or runs or dancing or going up and down the stairs, but that needs to happen most days. If your body moves, you find out your mental health also improves because there’s a link between your movement, and how happy or sad you are. Mental health is a massive thing but we don’t talk about it enough in Nigeria. Mental health affects your body, your body affects your mind. They are so interlinked. This is a very good time of the year to reassess or to assess — if you’ve never done it before — where you are as a person. Forget about what anybody else is doing. Forget about social media, it’s not real anyway. Where are you in your own life? How are you in your mind? How are you in your body? What are you putting inside your mouth? What’s coming out of your mouth? Write it down. Where do you want to be? If you’re someone who cannot climb the stairs without breathing heavily, are you making the conscious steps to climb the stairs without breathing heavily? Wellness is just really about you.”
She also underscored the importance of supplements such as Vitamin D which is one of the products of her supplement company Vine Health.
“Vitamin D is so crucial at this point because there’s a link between vitamin D and so many things such as diabetes, depression, COVID. And there is vitamin D deficiency in our community. I don’t recommend a diet. I always say eat everything in moderation. Moderation is the key to life. Alcohol is a difficult subject because alcohol comes with a lot of diseases.”
These measures are what Alabi sees as the way to live a better life.
“People have little things in practice that make them healthy. Some people live for more than 100 years. It’s not because they have a longer lifespan in their family. It’s about the choices they make. 50 per cent of your health is down to the choices you make,” she said.
“You can’t really come into the fullness of wealth unless you are healthy. It will be fantastic to get a book where I could get everybody’s health secrets.”