SOCIETY

Family’s journey for hair transplant points to Greece as rising medical tourism destination

Kuwaiti national Khaled Al Said had his first hair transplant in Athens two years ago, following exhaustive research carried out over a period of four years. Satisfied with the operation’s results, Al Said recently returned to Athens for a supplementary procedure accompanied by his wife and 33-year-old brother Mubarak, who also wanted to undergo the same hair transplant operation.

Describing the story of the two siblings, which illustrates the development of medical tourism in Greece, was Dr Anastasios Vekris, a plastic surgeon specializing in hair transplants. According to Vekris, 24 percent of the patients who visit his clinic are foreign nationals, mainly from the Middle East and Western Europe, who travel to Greece precisely for this reason.

“Foreigners come to Greece because they find high-quality medical services at lower prices, compared to countries like Britain or the United States,” he noted. “For example, the FUE (follicular unit extraction) hair transplant method, which has been gaining ground recently as it less traumatizing and does not leave scars, is successfully used in Greece. Anyone who does their own good research will end up visiting a good doctor who can perform this procedure.”

For Mubarak Al Said, a dentist, lower prices were not the key factor for choosing Greece. “I didn’t come to the country because it’s cheaper, but because I saw the natural result on my brother. Many people opt for Turkey as services are even cheaper there, but when it comes to health matters, cost is not the first thing you look at.”

In all cases an increasing number of people are picking Greece when it comes to medical services. Besides hair transplant procedures, the country is also an international destination for treating infertility as well as plastic surgery. A recent medical conference was told that 360 Romanian couples had traveled to Greece to visit a particular fertility center in the space of one year. Participants at the conference also heard that visits to the country for eye operations, dental care and treatment for kidney problems are also on the up.

The rapid rise of medical tourism around the world is primarily due to the high cost of medical procedures, especially surgery, in a many countries. According to research carried out by Athens University professor Yannis Tountas, Greece’s revenues from medical tourism could reach up to 2 million euros through 400,000 patients in the next decade, if the country makes the right moves.

The country’s private medical sector is already rising to the challenge. Following the Metropolitan Hospital in Neo Faliro, southern Athens, the Athens Medical Group (which includes the Athens Medical Center) has also earned certification from Temos International, an organization specializing in the demands and requirements of patients traveling overseas for treatment. Both the Metropolitan Hospital and the Athens Medical Group have now become members of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE).

In the meantime, medical tourism has not been affected by the European financial crisis. Over the last two years, for instance, hair transplant operations across the continent have risen 39 percent. The case of an economic migrant who currently resides in Greece and recently visited Vekris’s clinic makes the point. “Isfak Ahmed comes from Pakistan. He is 33 years old,” noted the surgeon.

“He wanted to undergo a hair transplant operation, not out of vanity, but out of necessity. He wanted to look good in order to succeed in getting married.”