Sana had her bachelor degree in pharmacy in 1998 from the Lebanese American University and then specialized in Clinical Pharmacy (Pharm-D).
After moving to Italy, from 2004 to 2008 she attended another four-year specialization program on applied pharmacology at the University of Florence – pharmacovigilance and surveillance unit department for research assessment, and from 2012 to 2014 she followed her Master degree in International Program in Addiction Studies, IPAS, provided by the Virginia Commonwealth University, King’s College London, and the University of Adelaide, recommended by the NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Over the years, thanks to the growing expertise accrued, she has independently developed and implemented a series of extremely significant initiatives and projects.
In 2006, after having won a scholarship as the pharmacist of the Regional centre of Pharmacovigilance in Florence, she created an original project dedicated to "Pharmacovigilance in Middle Eastern countries” aimed at developing and monitoring the drug safety profile. This project was presented in February 2008 to the head of quality and safety assurance of medicinal products of the WHO (World Health Organisation) in Geneva, and to the Director of For external Affairs, Head office of the WHO program, UMC (Uppsala Monitoring Centre).
In the wake of this initiative, also in 2008 in Doha, Qatar, she illustrated "Setting up a Pharmacovigilance Centre in Qatar & the GCC countries”, a work carried out in collaboration with the head of the Toxicology Department & DIC at the Hamad Medical Center, HMC.
During the same year, at Uppsala, in Sweden, she took part in the "WHO Program for International Drug Monitoring, UMC-WHO”, as the very first representative for Lebanon.
Once again in collaboration with the Meyer Children’s Hospital in Florence, from 2009 to 2011 she conducted clinical research on pharmacovigilance in paediatric population and coordinated a pilot program on computerization of the adverse drug reaction reporting system in paediatric hospitals.
During the same period she was entrusted by the International School of Florence to develop a substance abuse prevention program for schools. This led to her decision to analyze this issue more in-depth by participating in the IPAS Master.
Sana’s story has reached this point of time. Nevertheless, many new projects are already in the pipeline…
No pleasure is a bad thing in itself, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail disturbances many times greater than the pleasures themselves. (Epicurus)
How my dream was born.
A few words with Sana.
One fine day in 2001, a red and white plane took off from Beirut and landed in Italy. Sana disembarked from that plane with her degree in clinical pharmacy and a dream in her suitcase.
This was a decision from the heart, but also a rational decision to further my studies in the clinical field. Almost immediately I started working in a municipal pharmacy. Then the arrival of my first child after a complicated pregnancy forced me to cut back my work load and interrupt this initial very formative experience. Nevertheless, I still continued my studies at the University of Florence where, due to my professional profile, I was advised to carry out a doctorate in applied pharmacology, unit of pharmacovigilance.
Four more years of study.
That’s right. During the specialisation course in Pharmacology I won a scholarship that allowed me to work for the Tuscany Region, and this represented the second turning point in my career because I was able to enter into contact with the Uppsala Monitoring Center of the World Health Organisation (WHO). This was when the idea to develop my original project of pharmacovigilance in the Middle East took shape and my frequent trips to Lebanon allowed me to refine the overall architecture and scope of my project across the Gulf countries. It was a great experience to be able to present my project to the WHO in Geneva, and really wonderful to receive appreciation and be encouraged to also present it at the upcoming annual Pharmacovigilance Congress in Uppsala.
Fate knocked on your door in Sweden, when you met Edward Napke.
A very important encounter in my life. Napke is one of the most noteworthy scholars worldwide who was the founder with several others, of the very concept of pharmacovigilance. And it is only thanks to the contribution of over 50 years of his work that my professional training has become what it is today. In fact, as he appreciated my efforts, Professor Napke encouraged me to develop my other project, still within the realm of pharmacovigilance, but this time in the paediatric field and targeting the whole world. This is because the question of drug safety is even more important in the paediatric context due to the fact that more than half of the medicinal products used for treating children are prescribed on an off-label basis or outside the common indications since they have not been adequately tested and/or formulated or authorised for use in children.
Obviously an interesting idea seeing it was accepted by the Meyer Children’s’ Hospital in Florence.
And very enthusiastically too. The same enthusiasm that spurred me on for two years during this experience during which I was able to reinforce the pharmacovigilance system in the hospital by operating in close collaboration with the toxicology and pharmacy departments.
And this is where there was a new professional switch.
Indeed, because the DEA advised me to contact its own scientific section, the NIDA, National Institute on Drug Abuse, which in turn guided me towards the IPAS Master. Two years of intense study that have enriched my cultural background and increased my professional knowledge, giving me the chance to share the course with people from all over the world. Something interesting though – many of those enrolled were from the same NIDA, and apart from several English students, I was the only European there. IPAS helped me with my behavior towards food. The more I was learning about addiction, the more I was seeing myself as an addict, a food addict! By getting to know the way to reverse it, I was able to help myself. So that’s why right after graduation, I founded SanaFirenze, a multi-disciplinary team of professionals that works in the addiction field. In few words, I’m trying to provide for my patients all what I would like to have found when I was a food addict!
Now Sana, fourteen years after your initial journey, you are off again. Where to this time?
As mentioned above, to cure addiction. In particular addictions coming not only from substances (drugs, alcohol, prescription drugs, nicotine, etc.) but also from lifestyles choices related to food, electronics use, gaming, sport, betting/gambling, etc. Dealing with these SMALL but repetitive habits in our daily life can have a BIG effect on our quality of life. I work on two levels, one of prevention and the other of clinical aspect and tutoring.
In what way?
On one hand I want to spread a culture of responsibility towards ourselves and towards others. The sense of limit, knowing how to manage ourselves, the concept of moderation, these things are not innate in man. They have to be communicated and explained in the right manner. And this work gives the best results when we start to sow the seeds in children, even though it’s obvious that it is also indicated for adolescents and adults. Workshops, lectures, public speaking, TV/radio shows are the instruments I use in schools/universities, healthcare centers and various communities. Examples of my activities include: the Fast/Slow Food Firenze Workshop at the Gonzaga University in Florence, guest speaker/Food & wine course at CEA, substance use disorder prevention program at the International School of Florence, training medical team at the Bariatric Surgery Center in Lebanon, workshop with the dieticians at SWS-Lebanon ‘food addiction & dieticians role in recovery’, public speaker at national health-related events in UAE, collaboration with Dubai police and the National Rehabilitation Center in Abu Dhabi, TV/radio shows (TADÀ, VIBS,…) and lot more….
Then there’s the therapeutic part.
Of course. When someone is a victim of addiction. Being overweight, obese, anorexic, bulimic, or super skinny. How many times have we talked about it? How many times have we recognised the disturbing symptoms of these disorders in people we care about, children, adolescents, adults, or even ourselves? We know the symptoms, but what about the causes? Analysis, diets, medicinal products, physical exercise… these are coded methods for addressing the problem. But what if it were pure addiction? Today, we are finally able to count on a different approach to the problem that accurately identifies if the nature of the disorder is due to addiction, in which case we can take appropriate action.
‘Overweight due to eating out of boredom/anger/stress’, ‘food nibbling’, ‘eating outside meals/fast-food/snacking’, ‘craving sweets/bread/pasta/pizza’, ‘night overeating’, ‘menopause weight gain’, ‘food restriction’, etc.
Ask yourself the following questions:
While you are well aware what you should and should not eat, you know the value of food and you also understand that you should do some physical exercise, are you simply unable to put all these ideas into practice despite knowing your life would change? Do you find comfort in food? How many times have you been unable to maintain the weight loss through dieting or surgery? Are you taking medications that cause belly fat? Do you crave sweets during PMS?
But how do you operate?
The programmes are tailor-made for each individual patient and consist of the five following steps.
Step 1-First patient’s interview:
Listening and building trust are the key!
Together filling in forms based on international guidelines and the input of a well-known team in the field formed by a toxicologist, psychiatrist, psychologist, nutritionist, paediatrician & pharmacologist.
We will be identifying together what your drug. Is it: ‘eating out of boredom/anger/stress?’, ‘sweets, pasta & pizza?’, ‘food restriction’, ‘food nibbling’, ‘night overeating’, ‘snacking’, ‘drinking sodas’, etc.?
Step 2-Separately, I will be evaluating your medical history, and your physical and psychological conditions together with your first interview findings.
Step 3-Tailored programme:
So now that we have the definition of your drug and your objectives, we will be able to identify your outcome parameters as this programme is meant to optimise your lifestyle aspects and not just your weight problem. Call it tutoring rather than treatment because the main problem with addiction is the lack of awareness. So once you learn what it is and have the ‘know-how’ skills, you will find out the way back for reversing it, and AT YOUR OWN PACE!
Step 4-Second patient interview:
Essential for discussing further the tailored programme and making any changes.
Step 5-Follow up:Usually I recommend a 3 and 6 month follow-up to prevent any relapses which are highly likely in addiction.
So every patient is really a case per se.
That’s right, all our patients are acknowledged as individuals and each one is listened to, understood, and helped. They are protected by an environment that is geared to each specific situation offering full professional confidentiality by signing a contract and following the updated European guidelines for privacy- Art. 13 del Gdpr 2016/679. This is one of the strong points of my program: absolute respect for privacy and total discretion, which also means respect for the patient and his/her family.
Sana’s dream has therefore come true.
Yes, my dream is a dream of freedom: of understanding and helping others either to avoid the slavery of addiction or to overcome it. And my dream has come true. It is no coincidence that in the logo of my organization, there is a seagull flying between the sea and sky. Ultimately, my desire is for every patient who puts their trust in me to be able to take flight just like I did so many years ago when I climbed aboard that plane in search of new horizons.
‘The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection’. ‘Best Possible Self! The goal is progress, not perfection, since none of us will ever be perfect. Abstinence versus picking ourselves up and keep going!’