x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Medical tourism is shaping into big business for India

When a group of women from Uganda embarked on a trip of a lifetime to India, little did many of their friends and families at home know that a secret surgical "mummy makeover" was on their itinerary.

NEW DELHI // When a group of women from Uganda embarked on a trip of a lifetime to India, little did many of their friends and families at home know that a secret surgical "mummy makeover" was on their itinerary.

The three mothers from the east African nation meticulously planned their month-long tour around surgical procedures in New Delhi that they hoped would enable them to return to their husbands looking trimmer and healthier.

They admitted that vanity was a key motive behind their choice to go under the surgeon's knife in a faraway country, and said they want their tummies tucked and breasts firmed up so they can again wear swimsuits with confidence.

"There are certain activities you can't do if your top is very heavy," said one of the women, requesting anonymity after breast reduction surgery at a clinic in the Indian capital.

The women, staying at a guesthouse in the upmarket area of Greater Kailash, have been mixing two weeks of post-operative care with shopping and visits to sightseeing favourites such as the Red Fort and the Qutub Minar monument.

The Ugandan mothers are among foreigners from many countries who are adding surgery to holiday trips that often include outings to the Taj Mahal in Agra and other tourist spots.

Millions around the world choose to reshape their bodies through cosmetic surgery each year, despite risks such as those highlighted by the French breast implant scandal, in which tens of thousands of women have been told to have defective implants removed.

Popular cosmetic surgery destinations include Brazil, Thailand and South Africa, but the Ugandan women said India's relatively low costs, good medical facilities and English-speaking doctors were deciding factors in their choice.

Having surgery away from home means the women do not need to worry about their family or work. They also have the luxury of revealing the surgery only to those they want to.

"Our country is very image conscious. When you run into a friend, instead of saying hello she will comment on your weight. It makes you feel bad," said one, a 37-year-old mother to three including three-year-old twins.

A "mummy makeover" in countries such as the US and Britain would cost nearly five times as much in India where an average bill would be about half a million rupees (Dh36,700), said the Delhi plastic surgeon, Ajaya Kashyap.

Medical tourism is a booming business in India, especially the cosmetic surgery sector, which industry experts say is growing between 20 and 30 per cent annually.

The number of medical tourists, including those seeking cosmetic surgery, is expected to reach one million by 2012, according to a report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, a prominent trade body.

Dr Kashyap said mothers seeking makeovers are typically in their thirties or early forties, have completed their families and are financially independent with some disposable income.

The doctor said business has been good as awareness about the relatively low-risk procedure increases. But he said sometimes he has had to disappoint prospective clients from abroad. "Expectations have to be realistic. They must realise that just by having a surgery, they cannot look like a film star."