Turkey Offers Moustache Transplant Surgery Vacation Packages

We’ve all heard of medical tourism in which travelers head abroad to get liposuction or a nose job and then recuperate on the beach – but have you ever heard of a mustache transplant vacation?

Cosmetic surgeons in Turkey have been performing hair transplants on balding men for years; however, it seems there’s now growing demand from men with bald upper lips.

Men from Asia, Europe and the Middle East have been flocking to the country in order to give their mediocre moustaches a helping hand and tourism agencies have taken notice. Many local companies have begun offering “transplant packages” in which tourists can get their surgery done before chilling out at a Mediterranean Resort or hitting the capital’s shopping malls.Turkey has quickly been making a name for itself in the health care tourism industry. Last year alone, the country earned $1 billion from travelers visiting to have surgical procedures done. Of course, most of that revenue likely comes from procedures like plastic surgery, but the facial hair transplants are certainly adding up, with one doctor in Istanbul claiming he performs around 60 mustache transplants a month.

Interestingly, there’s little interest from Turks in getting the procedure done. According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of Turkish men sporting moustaches has fallen radically in the past two decades – not that they have any trouble growing facial fuzz. “Personally, I’d be suspicious of a Turk who couldn’t grow a mustache,” a salesman from Istanbul told the newspaper. “But if foreigners need to come anywhere for the operation, it should be here. The Turkish mustache is still the envy of the world.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user hapal]

London’s surgery museums are frightening and fascinating

Ah, the good old days! Everything was so simple a hundred years ago, so stress free. No television, no Britney Spears, no threat of global warming or nuclear war. Life was better then.


Cities choked on coal smoke, people starved on the streets, terrorists blew up innocent people, and the medicine, well. . .

While London has dozens of museums that can tell you about the past, two museums in particular tell you about the hard facts of life more than any other. The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret and the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons give you eye-popping tours through the “good” old days of surgery and medicine.

The Old Operating Theatre is exactly that, Britain’s only intact 19th century operating theatre. Dating to the days before anesthetic and before surgeon’s thought it might be help to wash their hands, it’s a sobering reminder of what our great-great-grandparents had to endure when they got sick. The theatre was in use from 1821 to 1862 and survived only because it got sealed off and forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1957.

The theatre was where surgeons and medical students watched the best doctors of the day cut off limbs, trepan skulls, and perform other operations. Beside the operating theatre, there is a large space reserved for displays of early medical techniques and instruments. Behold the glorious cervical dilator, a multipronged monstrosity that did just what it promised! Or the bone saw, which in the hands of a skilled surgeon could cut through a leg in less than a minute. Or the leeches, which were actually quite effective at getting rid of bruises by sucking the blood out of you.

%Gallery-128964%But it’s not all horror tales. These were primitive days, to be sure, yet doctors really did try to help their patients and herbal medicine was quite advanced. Also, there were innovative minds like Dr. Joseph Lister, who realized that disinfectant could help reduce fatalities after surgery, and Nurse Florence Nightingale, who made huge advances in hospital cleanliness to make patients healthier and happier.

The museum chronicles the efforts of doctors, nurses, apothecaries, and midwives. It’s literally crammed with artifacts and displays and an interested visitor can easily spend a couple of hours here.

An equally fascinating and full museum is the Hunterian Museum. Located in the Royal College of Surgeons, it houses a huge collection of preserved human and animal specimens. If you’ve ever wanted to know what a hernia looks like from the inside, this is where to find out. You can also see the large intestine of a crocodile, Charles Babbage’s brain, an artificially deformed skull from ancient Egypt, and the bones of the Irish giant Charles Byrne.

The main draw are the medical specimens of almost every imaginable malady. To actually see what so many people get is a revealing experience. Upstairs are displays of the history of surgical techniques. Unlike the Old Operating Theatre, this museum takes you right up to the modern day and there are some graphic films of operations such as the removal of a brain tumor and an enlarged prostate. Much of this museum is not for the faint of heart, but while I was watching the brain surgery in horrified fascination one brave little ten-year-old girl plopped down next to me and sat through the whole thing. I warned her off the stereoscopic views of First World War facial injuries, though.

While the “eewww, gross” element to both of these museums is certainly present, they are both very well presented and worth the time of any visitor who wants to learn more about issues that will, sadly, affect them sooner or later. It’s strange that these two museums aren’t better known. I highly recommend them both.

Planeterra Foundation gives sight to the blind in Tibet

Tibet is one of the most visually stunning places on Earth, but many Tibetans can’t see it.

Blindness is a serious problem in the developing world. Poverty and lack of rural health care means that millions of people around the world go blind because of easily curable maladies such as cataracts.

One of the organizations fighting to stop curable blindness is the Planeterra Foundation, which recently announced a fund raiser and a video contest. For the past two years Planeterra has set up eye clinics in rural Tibetan villages and performed hundreds of surgeries.

“Tibet has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world. Most of this blindness is due to cataracts, a disease associated with aging but also prevalent among children and the working class. Many are unable to reach a hospital because of poverty and lack of transportation. With scattered populations spread across great distances, surgical eye camps are the most efficient way to treat the high rate of disease,” said Planeterra director Richard Edwards.

Such clinics are very cost effective. A donation of $50 pays for cataract surgery, so if you’ve enjoyed the beauty of the Himalayas, this is a good way to give back.

If you’re handy with a video camera, check out the “Her Sight Is Worth It.” video contest sponsored by Planeterra‘s partner Seva Canada. Young, aspiring filmmakers will create a short videos about vision impairment and gender, with the grand prize winner getting a new MacBook. Three winning videos will be screened at the World Community Film Festival and be honored by having sight restored to one girl and one woman in their name.

Planeterra believes in responsible travel and through its parent company Gap Adventures runs “Voluntours” where travelers can help out in schools in Zambia, study sea turtles in Costa Rica, or assisting street children in Peru. All Voluntours include several days of sightseeing too. Planeterra and Gap Travel are co-winners of the 2009 Responsible Travel and Tourism Forum (RTTF) Leadership Award presented by Baxter Travel Media and Air Canada.

Having trekked around a lot of different countries, I’ve seen many, many people stuck in sightless poverty because they can’t afford such a cheap and simple operation. Luckily Planeterra and Seva Canada aren’t the only folks out there tackling the problem. A number of agencies are fighting blindness. When I went to the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, in 2001, there was one guru who had set up a free eye clinic and performed hundreds of cataract surgeries. It must have felt like a miracle for the patients to have their sight restored at Hinduism’s holiest festival.


More people traveling to Malaysia to go under the knife

One type of tourism has managed to thrive despite the poor global economy. The prevalence of medical tourism is on the rise in countries like India and Malaysia.

Think that it is a little extreme to go under the knife abroad? Consider this: depending on the procedure, surgery in Malaysia can cost half of what it does in the US or UK. Many doctors in Malaysia are foreign trained and facilities are world-class. The rate of patient infection at clinics and hospitals in Malaysia is much less than it is in the UK.

Last year 341,288 foreign patients came to Malaysia for its medical services. Projections show a 30% increase each year over the next several years.

Who are these medical refugees? People without insurance, people whose insurance won’t cover a procedure, or those who want surgery for cosmetic purposes. In countries with socialized medical care, the wait list can be several years long. In Malaysia, minor surgery can be arranged and performed in a day or two. If health care costs in the west continue to rise, look for Malaysia’s medical tourism industry to grow with it.

[Related story]

South Americans in Europe have plastic surgery to look more European

We’ve written here before about people traveling to undergo plastic surgery, but moving to another country then getting plastic surgery to look more like the people whose country/continent you are living in, is a whole new (not to mention depressing) concept.

An increasing number of immigrants in Europe are opting to change their facial features in order to look more “western”, or less conspicuous on the street. Apparently, the nose is most characteristic of where we come from which is why rhinoplasty is the most popular surgery amongst these immigrants. In Spain, the surgery costs Euro 5000 and takes 20 minutes.

In one of my previous posts I wrote how although Spain can be culturally insensitive, I didn’t find Spain racist at all. But after reading that about 2,500 South Americans (mainly Ecuadorians and Colombians) have nose jobs every year (many of those live in Madrid), it made me think again: Why do these Latinos want to go to such an extent to fit in? What sort of discrimination are they suffering?

How have we let social stigmas in our so-called “multi-cultural-multinational-society” go so far as to warrant reactions like this?