x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The price of beauty can be too high

As plastic surgery booms in popularity, doctors warn of rogue operations that place profits before patient safety.

As plastic surgery booms in popularity, doctors warn of rogue operations that place profits before patient safety.
As plastic surgery booms in popularity, doctors warn of rogue operations that place profits before patient safety.

DUBAI // Almost every other smart villa on Jumeirah Beach Road appears to hold the promise of a life-changing quick fix for men and women unhappy with their appearance and prepared to pay someone to do something about it. Over the past few years, Dubai has emerged as a major centre for cosmetic surgery, attracting surgeons from as far afield as France, Britain and India, keen to meet the growing demand.

There are now more than 1,000 clinics in business, offering a long list of procedures ranging from Botox and breast augmentation ? for men and women ? to liposuction, hair transplants and facelifts. Most are reputable. However, as in any industry, there are always some prepared to put profits ahead of the best interests of their clients - many of whom, says one surgeon, approach the serious business of surgery with a far too relaxed attitude.

"There needs to be more education about cosmetic surgery," said Dr Buthainah al Shunnar, a general and cosmetic surgeon who runs Al Shunnar Plastic Surgery Clinic and has a three-month waiting list for appointments. She says that putting a stop to rogue operators addresses only one side of the problem: the public needs to be educated about cosmetic surgery and made to realise it is not as easy as their friends, or the television, say it is.

"I see people who come into the surgery and want to have surgery the next day," she said. "I ask them if they realise there will be pain and general anaesthetic involved. "It is not a simple procedure. You also need to know about the patient's background. Are they going through a divorce or anything? You need to know you are doing the surgery at the right time." Many people, she believed, were pressured into seeking surgery: "They see it on television and think it is the solution, or hear their friends' stories. Dubai is a very image-conscious society and there is constant competition to look better than everyone else.

"Cosmetic surgery should be about making a conscious decision to do something for a valid reason." Not all surgeons, however, appear quite as sensitive to their clients' needs, as The National discovered when it spent a day finding out just how easy it was to go under the knife in Dubai. The cost of a consultation with a private plastic surgeon ranges from Dh200 to Dh400 and can last as little as five minutes.

In most cases, very few questions were asked about the reporter's medical background and, in some clinics, no questions at all. One surgeon, asked about the benefits of liposuction versus healthy eating and exercise in the pursuit of losing just a few kilograms, went so far as to say that dieting and exercise could make a woman put on weight, rather than lose it. In another's office, a promotional brochure for liposuction said: "Although diet, exercise and fashionable clothes can help many look better, it is not enough to remove or hide the stubborn bulges."

Some surgeons were also quick to suggest other treatments, including Botox and fat fillers, where fat is removed from one part of the body and injected into another, usually the face. It is a common technique in consultations to show the prospective client before-and-after photographs of previous operations, but there is no way of telling whether these have been digitally altered to show impressive but misleading results.

Rania Halawani, a dietician, said cosmetic surgery was only a temporary fix and what really needed to be altered were patients' habits. "If their habits of eating the wrong things stay the same after a liposuction procedure they will return to their original form," she said. "Cosmetic surgery should be a last resort and even then they should not be rushing into it at all." Money may be no object for some clients, but some may find themselves paying more than they expected. As well as the price of the basic procedure, some clinics add on charges for extras such as room hire, laboratory testing and radiology procedures.

In Dubai, the prices for all procedures are set by the Department of Health and Medical Services, but officials believe some clinics are overcharging. This is one of the main areas under investigation. "We set the prices for the private facilities," said Dr Ramadan Ibrahim Mohamed, head of the Clinical Governance Office. "However, we are aware that some of them push them up, off the record. "We want this to stop. Treatments can be expensive and prices should not be pushed up."

Prices for a facelift at different clinics in Dubai can range from Dh21,000 to Dh37,000. The cost of liposuction varies from Dh16,000 to Dh30,000 and breast augmentations can be had for between Dh18,000 and Dh25,000. Dr Ron McCulloch, who has been a general practitioner in the UAE for more than 30 years, said one of the main problems with the health service in general was that it was so money-driven.

"The cosmetic surgery industry has certainly boomed, but it has been a slow one," he said. "I am surprised it has taken this long to get to this level. You will always have the bona fide doctors operating in any field. However, there are also the cowboys. It is scary, really." Dr McCulloch said the speed at which some cosmetic surgeons suggested liposuction, which often necessitated a general anaesthetic, was worrying.

"Any procedure which includes general anaesthetic has a risk attached. If it is not a necessary procedure for the patient's health it is an unnecessary risk. "If you take 100 normal people and put them under general anaesthetic, the statistics show it is likely one person will have problems." As a rule of thumb, he said, "if someone suggests surgery, you should seek a second opinion". @Email:munderwood@thenational.ae