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A Hamilton doctor is leading the province's fight against obesity by creating a registry that will track the number of people needing bariatric surgery and whether it works.

As the Ministry of Health announced $12.6 million this week to expand access to bariatric surgery, Dr. Mehran Anvari is heading efforts to make sure it's money well spent.

He's overseeing the creation of an online database expected to be up and running by the end of the year that will track referrals and monitor surgery outcomes.

"It will help the province get a good handle on the size of the problem," said Anvari, chair of the province's advisory board and head of bariatric surgery at St. Joseph's.

Hamilton has one of four bariatric centres of excellence in Ontario; the money given this week will allow St. Joseph's to nearly double the number of surgeries done next year to 340 from the current 180.

The numbers are expected to continue to rise to 450 in two years.

"It's going to make a tremendous difference," said Dr. Sean Wharton, director of Hamilton's Wharton Medical Clinic and the Weight Management Centre.

"The more that the government recognizes that obesity is a medical condition and not purely a social one, the better health Canadians are going to have."

The extra money, which will ramp up the number of bariatric surgeries done in Ontario to nearly 2,100 a year by 2011, will mean fewer patients will have to go to the United States for treatment. On average, it costs the province $10,000 per procedure more when done in the U.S.

"Canada as a whole has been far behind other developed countries," said Anvari about the province's reliance until now on the U.S. to provide the treatment.

His advisory board is working out the details of the registry, which will help the province determine exactly how many surgeries should be funded in Ontario each year and the impact of the treatment.

It will also monitor the quality of care received by patients getting the surgery, which is riskier than other operations but often is the only hope for the severely obese.

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