Zablon Orina: I dedicated my life to fighting hypertension to honor my brother
By - Jan 1st 1970
ZABLON ORINA founded Kidney Focus Kenya, an organisation that advocates for the prevention of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. In an interview with JAEL MUSUMBA, Orina shares his journey and the inspiration behind his first book, “Fix The Cause.”
Aside from being a champion of chronic illness, you are also an author, Kindly share with us your journey
The reason I set out to change the lives of others by helping them to avoid the burden of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes is because I lost my own brother to kidney failure due to high blood pressure.
My brother was diagnosed with hypertension and within a short period of treatment, he also got diagnosed with kidney failure, prompting me to step in to try save his life by paying for his dialysis sessions which drained me both financially and emotionally. After one and half years of struggling to pay for his dialysis, he still passed on leaving me in debt. Paying for dialysis was quite expensive. It forced me to borrow money from friends and relatives and even from shylocks. The interest rates from shylocks were so high, the money grew to unimaginable levels. Organising for his transplant became so difficult in that even affording the basic tests required to identify a suitable donor became impossible.
During this period, even buying food for my family was so difficult. My brother’s illness completely changed my life. I became depressed and disorganised. It reached a point we had to sell our cradle land to try and save the situation. One afternoon while coming back from dialysis he collapsed and died.
It’s this low moment in life that led me into a season of reflection and research to find a solution to the heavy burden of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. My efforts since that time have been geared towards ensuring that no other person gets to go through what I went through.
How did you go about this?
I started a door-to-door campaign to check people’s blood pressure and educate them while doing research to get a lasting solution to the burden of hypertension. The first-hand experience with my brother made me realise that there is a huge knowledge gap in regards to hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
For example, most people have this belief that blood pressure rises as you age, that your blood pressure rises because of your genes and will also rise by the mere fact that you are male. I dug in to see if these beliefs were true or not and shared all my findings based on available evidence. Many people don’t know that both hypertension and type 2 diabetes can be prevented or even reversed. They end up owning these conditions as chronic inevitable problems and up leading poor quality lives just for failing to do the right thing.
As part of the larger plan to help people exit to retirement with healthy hearts, I started Kidney Focus Kenya, a non-governmental organisation to enable me to loop in a team into this cause in order to reach more people and empower them to lead healthy lifestyles to protect their hearts, kidneys and arteries from damage due to hypertension and diabetes. Hypertension and diabetes lead to heart disease, kidney disease, strokes and erectile dysfunction.
To fill the knowledge gap, I wrote the book Fix The Cause: Life Without Hypertension and Diabetes, a book that employs the use of imagery and soft language to pass the message in a way that will inspire the reader to take action towards lowering the burden of hypertension and diabetes. People who have read the book have been greatly impacted
When did you start your journey as a writer?
My journey as a writer began in 2019 due to the compelling need to pass credible information to inspire change and bring down the health and economic burden of hypertension and diabetes.
I realised that most materials that were available were not easy to read and understand by most people hence the urgent need to offer interesting information that readers could easily understand.
The system currently waits for patients before it can take action. Empowering people with knowledge was definitely going to give them a reason to fix their blood pressure and blood sugar numbers and avoid being permanent customers to the health system. Opening people’s eyes to see that hypertension and type 2 diabetes aren’t inevitable would help them avoid a diagnosis and in the process avoid the complications that come with those illnesses.
Majority of Kenyans are yet to adopt the tendency of reading books, how do you ensure that your message is disseminated to people?
People read interesting content. content that gives them hope or helps them to make money.
I had this in mind when I wrote the book. That’s why I used a totally different style to deliver the message without being too hard with science.
Being that the content revolves around medical aspects how do you ensure the message is well understood, do you have any medical connection professionally?
This is a very important question considering many people shy away from reading content that is scientific or medical. They do so because they consider such content as too difficult to understand. To ensure that my readers are as comfortable as possible I used very simple language that every person can understand. I used stories that every person can easily relate to.
To also make the scientific fraternity more comfortable, I attached the necessary references.
Professionally, I have a strong scientific background having done a bachelor of science degree in Biochemistry and currently pursuing a master's degree in health economics at the University of Nairobi with the hope that I can one day get a chance to influence health policy globally so we change people’s lives for good.
I also had a chance to get medical training on cardiovascular diseases as I worked as a medical representative for one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in the world for over 10 years. In my role, I worked closely with doctors from various specialities including cardiology, nephrology, neurology and general internal medicine.
How has the content been received so far and how far do you plan to go?
The content is changing lives. Most people who have read the book have ended up sending me their blood pressure numbers and committing to keeping a close eye on them.
They commit to exercise most days and cut excessive belly fat.
They also commit to eating healthy.
Even before I wrote the book, the campaign had been ongoing on Twitter, Facebook and on the ground. The content attracts a lot of interest considering the mystery that has always surrounded these diseases for many years.
What else do you think should be done to continue what you’ve started?
The government should continue with its efforts to do blood pressure and blood sugar screening but the screening should be geared towards preventing hypertension and type 2 diabetes as opposed to just picking patients early. Help our people to avoid the diseases by teaching them to Fix The Cause.
Lifestyle change should be more emphasized during treatment instead of being mentioned as a by the way.
The Government should also expedite the construction of proper pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes that are safe and secure to encourage more people to exercise.
They should set aside more open spaces for physical activity especially in urban centres.
Where can readers purchase your books?
Fix The Cause is available at the Writers Guild Bookshop at Hazina Towers ground floor 0748 055 879, or Nuria Book Store at the Bazaar 11th floor. It is also available in Naivas Supermarket outlets near you.