Medical tourism flourishes in Syria
Enab Baladi – Reham al-Sawadi
“My friend highly recommended Syria as the suitable place to have nose plastic surgery, based on his previous experience, where he had the same operation,” the Iraqi young man Mustafa Fadhel told Enab Baladi.
The young man, who hails from the city of Karbala, preferred to go to Syria rather than any other country to perform the operation, he told Enab Baladi.
“Syria is an Arab country whose language I understand, and the Syrian people are known for their kind treatment, in addition to their low prices,” Fadhel added.
Fadhel explained that plastic surgery in Iraq costs him more than $1,500, while in Syria, the cost is about $400 dollars. ($1=14,100 SYP)
Nihad Abu Shakra came from Jordan to have her teeth treated in Syria two weeks ago, citing the high cost of treatment in Jordan. She told Enab Baladi that the cost of dental treatment of three teeth in Jordan amounts to approximately $600, while in Syria, it cost her about $50.
Abu Shakra pointed out that the medical examination in Syria cost her three dollars, while the cost in Jordan was $112.
Tax free, Low wages
Enab Baladi asked five people of different Arab nationalities why they went to Syria to seek treatment in general and cosmetic treatment in particular, and they agreed that the cost of treatment in Syria is cheap compared to their countries.
A Syrian dermatologist told Enab Baladi that the low cost in Syria is due to the cost of the products used, as most beauty centers adopt Korean and Chinese products, which are cheaper than the French and German products approved in many countries.
There is “randomness” in beauty centers’ purchase of cosmetic products, such as fillers, botox and mesotherapy, and other cosmetic products, and there is no license for these imported products in Syria, which makes their price cheaper due to the lack of payment of licensing fees, according to the doctor.
She pointed out that the doctor does not pay attention to the country of origin of the product or the way it enters Syria, and what matters to him is that the product be tested and not harmful.
On the other hand, a dental doctor residing in Damascus said that the products used are of “high” quality, but what makes the cost of treatment cheaper is the labor wages in Syria, which are low compared to neighboring countries.
The number of visitors to Syria since the beginning of this year until November 26 reached 1.9 million visitors, and it is expected to reach two million by the end of the year, 30% of whom are tourists, Mohammad Rami Martini, the Minister of Tourism, told Sham FM radio.
The Syrian Prime Ministry stated that the percentage of tourists coming to Syria for treatment constitutes 5% of the total number of tourists arriving from different nationalities.
The disparity in the costs of medical services provided in Syria compared to other countries, the presence of a number of famous Syrian doctors, residents, and expatriates, and the good reputation of the Syrian doctors are considered among the strength points that Syria possesses in the field of cosmetics.
According to the Tourism Ministry, Syria has a diversity of “qualified” medical sectors that have a competitive advantage, such as dentistry, ophthalmology, vision correction operations, and cosmetic medicine.
Syria is considered one of the “cheapest” countries in the world for dental treatment, and this is what makes it a destination for people from all over the world, according to what the head of the Dentists Syndicate, Zakaria al-Basha, said to Sham FM radio.
A dentist residing in Damascus told Enab Baladi that medical tourism in Syria is 90% focused on Syrian expatriates and 10% on Arab tourists.
He attributed the choice of Syria as a destination for medical tourism to three reasons, the first of which is the quality of work and mastery; secondly, the prices, as they are low in Syria compared to neighboring countries; and thirdly, the tourist facilities that are cheap in Syria, such as restaurants and hotels.
Spread of cosmetic centers
During the past years, a clear trend has emerged of a desire among doctors in Syria to choose the cosmetic specialty over any other specialty, due to the financial returns from this specialty that are not equivalent to any other specialty.
The dermatologist said that beauty centers have spread in Damascus, and everyone who has money has begun investing in the beauty sector due to the profits they make.
The doctor gave an example of laser hair removal centers, which are popular with girls and generate millions.
The number of doctors specializing in plastic surgery over the past years has reached several times the number of doctors specializing in specialties that have become rare today, including anesthesia, thoracic surgery, neurology, and nerve surgery, according to a previous statement by the head of the Syrian Medical Syndicate.
Regime-controlled areas in Syria suffer from a significant shortage of medical personnel in various specialties due to the migration of most doctors and the conditions for practicing the profession in Syria in light of economic, living, and service crises that do not encourage the continuation of work there, without feasible governmental solutions that may help mitigate the effects of the scarcity of necessary medical specialties.
The term medical tourism refers to the movement of people from their country to another country with the aim of obtaining treatment. Medical tourism is one of the economic growth stimulants for many countries, which prompts them to develop their health sector and implement programs to attract foreign patients.
On June 8, the Minister of Tourism, Mohammad Rami Martini, said at the “Medical and Wellness Tourism” conference in Jordan that the medical tourism sector is a “very important” investment field, and it can generate billions of dollars for any country’s economy.
The local Al-Watan newspaper quoted the head of the Syrian Doctors Syndicate, Abdul Qader al-Hassan, as presenting plans for a medical city project in al-Saboura in the Damascus countryside before the government, which pledged to overcome the routine obstacles facing it.
The medical city in al-Saboura is an old project. The former head of the Pharmacists Syndicate, Mahmoud al-Hassan, spoke about it in 2017, calling it “Pharco.” Its cost was ten billion Syrian pounds at the time, and it will be built on an area of 160 dunams.
The project was scheduled to be presented to Iranian companies or companies affiliated with one of the countries close to the regime for investment, according to what was reported by the Athr Press news website.
Syria is suffering, across various areas of control, from a decline in basic medical services, such as equipment malfunctions and a shortage of equipment and medicines.
Before 2011, the dentist residing in Damascus was part of the medical tourism team, which works to coordinate work between the Ministry of Tourism and Health and the unions to open offices in the Arab Gulf countries that are affiliated with an institution concerned with medical tourism.
According to the doctor, this institution works to estimate the cost and duration of the operation, while the tourist office provides the hotel and transports the tourist from the airport with a companion who will stay with him throughout his trip. However, work on this project stopped after 2011.
The doctor pointed out that there is no promotion of medical tourism in Syria, while the promotion depends on patients’ experience and recommendations.
Damascus International Airport is repeatedly bombarded with missiles, causing it to be out of service. The most recent attack occurred on November 26, when the Ministry of Defense said that an “air aggression” targeted the airport from the direction of the Israeli-Occupied Golan Heights, which led to it being out of service.
The attacks that the regime blames Israel for are not limited to airports. On December 2, Israeli raids targeted the vicinity of the capital, Damascus, leading to the killing of two advisors to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG).
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for two bombings that targeted the Sayyida Zeinab city near Damascus, which is an attraction for Iraqi and Iranian religious tourists, last July, resulting in about ten deaths and dozens of injuries.
Jordan News website reported that contact with two young Jordanian men who had entered Syrian territory before Eid al-Adha for the purpose of tourism was cut off last July, while the brother of one of them suggested that they had been kidnapped by armed militias.
This was not the first time, as Jordan regained its citizen, Abdul-Karim Qutaish al-Faouri, 67, about two weeks after his kidnapping, after he entered Syrian territory on December 26, 2022, for the purpose of tourism.
This type of news causes concern for some who are thinking about visiting Syria for the purpose of treatment or tourism, as happened with Ghinwa Basbous, a Lebanese citizen who was thinking of coming to Syria to have plastic surgery for her nose.
Basbous told Enab Baladi that what prompted her to choose Syria was the difference in prices, as her operation costs $2,000 in Lebanon, while in Syria, it costs between $200 and $600.
However, her family did not allow her to go, fearing the instability in the region.
As for Abu Shakra, she talked about her fears before heading from Lebanon to Syria for the first time, but with time, she got used to traveling due to the good treatment of doctors with patients. On the other hand, Fadhel believes that the state of instability is inherent in Iraq as well, which makes it usual.
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