Plastic surgeries in Syria: Deadly mistakes by unregulated clinicians

A beauty center in the Abu Rummaneh neighborhood in Damascus - October 25, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

A beauty center in the Abu Rummaneh neighborhood in Damascus - October 25, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

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Daraa – Sarah al-Ahmad

Due to the wide demand for cosmetic procedures in Syria, numerous beauty centers and clinics have recently emerged. These procedures have become an obsession for women and some men despite their high costs, and social media platforms are filled with posts raising questions about these operations or sharing their results.

With the increasing number of cosmetic surgeries, mistakes by cosmetic surgeons have also increased as they strive to maximize profits and achieve the desired level of beauty for their clients, disregarding government regulations.

Medical errors go unpunished

37-year-old Dareen al-Homsi, a Damascene residing in Kuwait, told Enab Baladi that while visiting her family in Damascus last summer, she decided to have filler injections to tighten specific areas of her face.

Al-Homsi insisted on having “Juvéderm” filler injections, which were not available with the doctor. He agreed to source it from Dubai, but on the day of the operation, he failed to procure the required substance and suggested using “Restylane” instead, charging 1.8 million Syrian pounds for each centimeter of the substance, with al-Homsi needing about four centimeters of it according to the doctor’s advice.

After 15 days, grayish clumps appeared in the injected areas, leading al-Homsi to return to the doctor inquiring about them. He claimed it was “normal” and suggested that she needed “massage” to make the clumping disappear.

Unconvinced, al-Homsi consulted another doctor who revealed the failure of the injections and the necessity to dissolve and remove them. She later confronted the original doctor and threatened him with legal action, to which he said that he “does not fear any threats.”

Subsequently, al-Homsi sought a lawyer in Damascus to file a lawsuit against the plastic surgeon. However, the judge only issued a warning to the doctor despite her not signing any document holding herself responsible for the operation’s outcomes.

27-year-old Maisa, living in Jaramana near Damascus for ten years, told Enab Baladi that she underwent liposuction to reduce her abdominal fat at a cosmetic center in Damascus for $1500. She also had a fat grafting procedure on her face for $400.

Following the operations and enduring “severe” pain, Maisa developed external edema and infections in the abdominal and facial areas, accompanied by swelling. Her doctor dismissed her complaints as “normal” and urged her to endure the discomfort.

Maisa’s condition worsened after a month, leading her to seek treatment from a dermatologist while the cosmetic surgeon had traveled to Iraq for cosmetic procedures, as informed by the center’s receptionist.

For three months, Maisa attempted to locate the doctor with no success. When she tried to take legal action with a lawyer, she was informed that the doctor has multiple medical malpractice cases against him, but he has a team of dedicated lawyers to defend him, making it difficult to hold him accountable.

Maisa continues to suffer complications from the cosmetic operation and undergoes continuous treatment six months after the surgery.

Deaths and disabilities

A cosmetic specialist from Daraa, who is one of the doctors in the Scientific Office of the Syrian Aesthetic Association, told Enab Baladi that there have been numerous cases of deaths and disabilities due to botched cosmetic surgeries. These cases have been reported to the head of the Scientific Office and the Minister of Health through the Central Doctors Syndicate.

To date, no bold decisions have been made to confront these inhumane acts, which “distort medicine due to greed for money,” as described by the doctor. Some doctors do not have licenses to perform cosmetic surgeries, and some women’s beauty salons perform cosmetic injections without proper qualifications.

Additionally, some doctors only accept payment in dollars, as revealed by the doctor who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In 2022, there were 13 recorded deaths due to medical errors, with expectations that the actual number surpasses that. This year, 21 deaths were documented, with most attributed to “heart failure,” according to the statistics of the Scientific Office of the Syrian Aesthetic Association.

Some notable incidents this year included the death of a girl in Damascus during a cosmetic procedure performed by an otolaryngologist and a woman who suffered nerve damage in her face due to incorrect injections by a general surgeon during a cosmetic procedure.

Ghassan Fendi, the head of the Syrian Doctors Syndicate, stated to the local newspaper Al-Watan in April 2023, commenting on medical errors, “I cannot say that medical errors predominantly occur in cosmetic surgeries, but cosmetic surgeries are aimed at achieving a goal, not providing care.” He explained that when a person visits a cosmetic surgeon, they have a specific request they want to achieve, and if the desired goal is not attained, the person believes that the doctor has not fulfilled their duty and proceeds to file a complaint.

Emad Saadeh, the head of the Doctors Syndicate branch in Damascus, disclosed to the same newspaper on December 20, 2023, that the syndicate has dealt with 100 complaints filed through the judiciary or the Health Directorate against doctors, leading to definitive decisions, either confirming medical errors or medical complications.

Saadeh confirmed that based on some of these complaints, decisions were made to refer some doctors to the Medical Disciplinary Council. Some doctors were suspended from work for a specific period, and one doctor was suspended for three years. Additionally, there are professional sanctions that lead to permanent removal from the medical register, but the doctor has the right to appeal to the Court of Appeal against this decision.

Lack of oversight or protection

Tawfiq, a lawyer from Damascus, told Enab Baladi that no true lawsuits against cosmetic surgeons for medical errors have been recorded. Most cases filed due to medical errors end with a warning to the doctor or the closure of the beauty center.

Articles 550-551 of the Penal Code require the punishment of a doctor with imprisonment from three months to one year if their negligence leads to someone’s death and imprisonment from two months to one year if the medical procedure causes medical harm, disfigurement, or permanent disability.

According to Article 164 of Civil Law, the injured party must be compensated with an amount determined by the court, which may reach millions of pounds.

The lawyer, who declined to disclose his full name for security reasons, added that every cosmetic surgeon is surrounded by a large team of lawyers for their defense. There are medical committees that delay writing their reports and fail to attend trials. Consequently, medical malpractice lawsuits can last for years and are often dropped as time passes.

Ghassan Fendi, head of the Doctors Syndicate in Syria, previously stated in August of last year that medical errors in Syria “remain within global proportions.” He added that medical errors exist in all countries at different rates, and even the discovery of medical errors varies from one country to another.

He indicated the possibility of developing a draft medical liability law by cooperating with the relevant authorities in the Ministries of Health and Justice.

Samir Mahfoud, the president of the Syrian Arab Association for Dermatology, stated on November 26 of last year that the association consists of approximately one thousand doctors, some working inside the country and others abroad.

 

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