Pakistani father hails miracle weight-loss drug after losing 72kg

New batch of GLP-1 drugs is transforming the way doctors get to grips with obesity

Sarosh Sohail lost 72kg after using the obesity drug Mounjaro for a year. Shahar Bano / Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Just 12 months ago, Pakistani father of two Sarosh Sohail was facing an anxious year of ill health caused by obesity as he struggled to shift weight from his 163kg frame.

Plagued with high blood pressure and cholesterol, sleep apnoea and Type 2 diabetes, Mr Sohail was struggling to balance his health with family life and a career in TV production.

But after trying a batch of medications aimed at those with diabetes to help weight loss, he has never looked back and is now an astonishing 72kg lighter.

Mr Sohail now hopes more people with serious weight problems can benefit from changes to the way expensive drugs such as Mounjaro and Ozempic are prescribed.

“I had to fight with my health insurers to get Mounjaro approved because they said it was for cosmetic purposes, rather than health benefits,” said Mr Sohail, who has lived in Dubai for a decade.

“The reality is, it has been life changing. As soon as I started on Mounjaro, my craving for food just stopped. Initially the weight loss was really nice, about eight to 10kg in the first month.

“Then, of course, it reduced to 4kg to 5kg a month. My weight now is between 91kg and 93kg.

“Initially, because I was obese, the insurance covered the cost of medication – but only until October when my weight got down to about 100kg.

“Since then I have had to pay for it myself, which is about Dh1,750 ($476) a month for four injections.”

Health benefits

The heath problems associated with his obesity have all but disappeared, and he is also more patient with his family.

Despite the huge weight loss, Mr Sohail's target is to drop to 85kg.

“My portion sizes have really gone down,” he said.

“I could easily finish two 200g steaks at a time. Now, I can hardly finish one, and have gone from three meals a day to two.

“I used to see food and crave for it. Now I don't feel hungry at all.

“I strongly recommend obesity is considered a disease and that insurance should cover it. It is not a cosmetic thing.”

Dr Sushum Sharma, a lifestyle disorder specialist at Saudi German Hospital, who treated Mr Sohail, said: “Mr Sohail had visited multiple doctors without losing much weight before for various treatments.

“Most of my patients have lost 20kg to 25kg, but somehow this patient had exceptional weight loss.

“He was very careful with his diet and lifestyle and responded very well to the medication.

“Insurance depends on what type it is and will only clear if the patient has diabetes, so he qualified for it to be covered this time.

“If you lose weight, you will have control of your diabetes, but it is a mixed bag on how much weight is lost.”

The drugs, commonly called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists, not only improve blood sugar control but can also lead to weight loss.

The medication mimics the action of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1.

As someone eats, blood sugars rise so the drug stimulates insulin production to lower those levels, which helps control Type 2 diabetes.

Although not entirely clear how GLP-1 drugs lead to weight loss, doctors do know they curb hunger and slow the movement of food through the body, making you feel full faster, and for longer.

From my perspective, there should be no boundaries to treat patients and I think costs can be a huge boundary for many
Prof Bart van Wagensveld, bariatric surgeon

The kind of drugs used by Mr Sohail have surged in popularity in recent months.

Semaglutide, under the brand name Wegovy, is registered for weight loss in the UAE, rather than Ozempic, which is registered for Type 2 diabetes, while Tirzepatide is used under the brand name Mounjaro in the UAE. It is prescribed for the treatment of diabetes and obesity.

According to data compiled by Universal Drugstore, an international prescription referral service, between August 22 and July 2023, there were 151,400 searches on Google in the UAE for the drug Ozempic, one of the most popular GLP-1 agonist class of drugs.

Data was collected using Google Keyword planner, to see how many times each term was searched in the UAE.

Similar weight-loss drugs were also sought by people in the Emirates, with 48,000 searches for Metmorfin, 47,200 searches for Saxenda, 20,480 for Tirzepatide and 18,660 for Wegovy.

Profits for Novo Nordisk, the Danish drug manufacturer behind Ozempic and Wegovy, a drug with similar properties, surged by more than 45 per cent to about $5.7 billion (Dh20.9 billion) in the first half of 2023, due to global demand.

Prof Bart van Wagensveld, a bariatric surgeon and obesity expert at the Weight Management Unit at NMC Royal in Khalifa City, said the new drugs have revolutionised the way medics tackle obesity.

“Bariatric surgery is the longest standing treatment, with excellent results and it's a safe treatment,” he said.

“But with the new medication, we now have a new weapon.

“Before the introduction of the GLP1 agonist drugs, medication wasn't effective.

“Now we see very good results that are getting close to those of bariatric surgery.”

Monthly expense

Monthly costs for emaglutide products such as Ozempic are about Dh1,700 a month, or Dh20,000 for a year.

Bariatric surgery typically costs between Dh25,000 and Dh30,000 for a one-off procedure and follow-up care.

The UAE currently ranks fifth in the world, with about 28.4 per cent of the country classed as obese, according to the Worldwide Obesity Index.

Only the Pacific Islands of Nauru, Kiribati and Tuvalu – and Kuwait – have a higher obesity risk score, that also considers physical inactivity, diabetes and the number of people who are overweight.

While GLP-1 drugs do carry side effects, they are usually mild and include gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea or constipation.

“There is one contraindication, such as thyroid cancer in the family, otherwise you can use it on a very broad scale,” Dr van Wagensveld said.

“Obesity is a chronic disease that needs lifelong treatment.

“Insurers do not always cover these costs of medication yet, but they should.

“From my perspective, there should be no boundaries to treat patients and I think costs can be a huge boundary for many.”

Updated: January 22, 2024, 9:04 AM