Stroke is a big problem not only in Nigeria but also in other developing nations of the world. For about two decades now, Dr. Kolawole Wasiu Wahab, a Consultant Neurologist and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Ilorin, has made it his business to frontally tackle this leading cause of mortality and disability.

 Dr. Wahab, a 2016 recipient of the Best Researcher Prize at the University of Ilorin, is one of the principal investigators in the largest study of stroke conducted in Africa till date -- the Stroke Investigative Research and Education Network (SIREN) SIREN, a multi-centred international study, sponsored by the National Institute of Health in the United States, seeks to determine the traditional risk factors for and effective treatment for stroke as well as the genetic predispositions to stroke.

  While identifying hypertension as the dominant risk factor for stroke, Dr. Wahab, in chat with Unilorin Bulletin, pointed out that majority of individuals who suffered stroke were unaware of the status or rise in their blood pressure resulting in the ailment of stroke and other cerebrovascular disorders. He said, “There are so many people that will come to the hospital with stroke and that will be the first time they are knowing they have hypertension. So the damage is already done by the time they are presenting to the hospital”.  He noted that awareness of risk factor is very poor while also highlighting other factors to include diabetes, smoking, alcohol consumption, high cholesterol, and bad lipid in the blood amongst others. 

   The Consultant Neurologist further identified some non-modifiable risk factors such as age, gender, and genetics. According to him, “Every decade one adds after the age of 55 years increases the risk of developing stroke. The sex of a person is important too, because stroke is more common in males than in females. …individuals should check their blood pressure regularly and those who are hypertensive should not deny it; they should start on medication and shouldn't allow themselves to be deceived because we have people outside who will tell you that they have a cure for hypertension. As of today, there is no cure for hypertension”.

  At the most concrete level, this distinguished neurologist has played important roles in reducing the burden of stroke in Nigeria, having facilitated, together with a senior colleague, the establishment of the Stroke Unit in the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital in 2011 (which is one of the earliest in the country). This endeavour has led to the drop in mortality rates of stroke in the Unit since its inception. 

  Given the challenges bedeviling the Nigerian healthcare system, Dr. Wahab emphasised the importance of prevention to reduce the burden of stroke. “One of the reasons why we are having high burden of stroke is because of the current situation- no health insurance”, he said, pointing out that “even if someone in the village is diagnosed of having hypertension, how is he going to take care of himself looking at the income?” 

  He said, “We have cases…when we go on outreaches to these communities, you will see someone with severe hypertension but there is no money for him to buy drugs to treat the condition; so if we have a good health insurance, those ones will be taken care of …the National Health Insurance Scheme is not sufficient ...even those who are covered are public servants. There are some investigations that you cannot do and how many Nigerians are actually civil servants? So what about the rest who are not covered?

  “To me, it is a very simple problem to solve. We are all using mobile phones for instance. If government makes it a policy that you should save for your health, it is going to relieve them a lot of headache. When I recharge my phone every week or every month, a certain percentage should be set aside for my health and if that money goes into a pool which is being done now with this NHIS, we have a larger pool so that if anybody is sick even if he needs N5 million for his treatment, there is not going to be any headache, it is just a matter of dipping your hands inside the pool and you take care of that person.”

   Underscoring the importance of values such as hard work, sacrifice and persistence, Dr.  Wahab, who had been elected twice by graduating medical students as the best lecturer in the Faculty of Clinical Sciences, enjoined young academics to identify their passion and pursue it. He said, “I think if you are driven by your passion and you are persistent, if you put in some hard work and with God being on one's side, one will achieve success.” These virtues, he continued, have contributed in no small measure to his success within the academia. “Some people have the focus of just getting employment in the University as an academic and rising to become a professor and they will not mind what kind of paper they submit for promotion. For them, the end justifies the means, however, if you will be an academic that will be worth your salt, the end should not justify the means. The way to getting to that end should matter too”, he maintained. 

Aside from winning the best researcher prize at the University of Ilorin, the renowned scholar had also won many other international awards and scholarships. Among these is the Commonwealth Scholarship for his further professional trainings at the University College, London and the Institute of Neurology and National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London; the American Academy of Neurology International Scholarship; the World Federation of Neurology Travelling Fellowship and the International Brain Research Organization Scholarship. For his undergraduate study, he was awarded a scholarship by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB).

Born to the family of late Alhaji Abdulwahab Ajadi Gbadamosi and Sariyu Alari Abdulwahab in the famous Opoyeosa area of Ibadan, the young Wahab had his early education at St. Peter's Catholic School, Oke Are and Apata Community Grammar School, Ibadan where he graduated with the best result in 1987. Recalling his growing up days which he described as 'fun,' this Unilorin alumnus has this to say on his philosophy about life: “It is very simple. Do unto others the way you want them to do to you and for those who have got to a level, you should be ready to pull others up. I usually joke with people that the very fierce dog you see in your neighbourhood was once a puppy- meaning that, you need to mentor others, they have potentials and it is just for them to get someone to mentor them and they can actually be better than yourself. It is just a matter of guiding them so that they get to their potentials and we should always work together, because together, we achieve more.”