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Syrian women still get cosmetic surgery despite war

Despite the collapse of the health sector and the deterioration of living conditions in Syria, more women are getting plastic surgery than ever.
Women buy cosmetics in Syria's northeastern city of Hasakeh on June 12, 2018.

DAMASCUS — Despite the collapse of the health sector and the deterioration of living conditions in Syria, cosmetic centers in Damascus are witnessing a huge increase in the number of customers wanting plastic surgery, in parallel with a growing number of plastic surgeons.

An official at the Damascus Medical Association told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that a large number of medical school graduates have switched over the past three years to plastic and reconstructive surgery. 

The official added that cosmetic centers in Damascus have increased by 80% compared to five years ago.

He also said that the percentage of cosmetic medicine specialists has increased, while the number of doctors specializing in other rare specialties, namely cancer, liver, kidney, glands and heart surgery, has decreased.

“The country is going through a stifling economic crisis, and the majority of government hospitals are falling short of providing full health care to the poor due to the collapse of the health sector and the migration of large numbers of doctors due to the war,” he said.

Yet despite the economic collapse suffered by Syrian citizens, plastic surgeon Munir al-Khatib receives dozens of people in his private clinic in the Jamiliya neighborhood in Aleppo city.

Khatib told Al-Monitor that he was surprised by the large numbers of women seeking to undergo costly surgeries, some of which cost thousands of dollars.

“While there are employed women who visit me, there are others who are poor and withdraw loans to go for Botox and fillers, which cost $2,000 to $3,000 … others go for major makeovers that change their facial features and bodies to look like foreign and Arab actresses and artists, and bear costs of up to $50,000,” he said.

Asked about the daily number of those wishing to undergo plastic surgery at his clinic, Khatib said, “I receive no less than 50 women, men, young men and women on a daily basis. And most of them have relatives in European or Gulf countries who cover the surgery costs for them. The rich class in Syria always resorts to plastic surgeries to stay young.”

In Damascus, Amir Jair, a young doctor who specializes in plastic surgery, regularly receives tempting job offers from large plastic surgery centers in the Gulf states, but he prefers to stay in Damascus. He explained to Al-Monitor, “I turn great profits from the surgeries I perform in Damascus, and they are the same profits I would be getting if I emigrate to any other country, as my clients are increasing by the day, which is why I do not even consider such offers [to work abroad].”

Ahmed Namir, a plastic surgeon who graduated last year from the Faculty of Medicine of Damascus University, refuses to change majors as he is currently turning a great financial profit. 

He told Al-Monitor, “Most graduates from the Faculty of Medicine are specializing in plastic surgery rather than other specialties due to the large profits plastic surgeons make. Doctors from other specialties only make minor profits compared to plastic surgeons.”

For his part, Zubair Moussa, a pseudonym for a doctor in the Damascus Medical Association and a former doctor at the Faculty of Medicine of Damascus University, told Al-Monitor that doctors specializing in plastic surgery are graduating at much higher rates than rare specialty doctors that are actually needed by the country, especially in the wake of the large migration of Syrian doctors.

Moussa, who refused to reveal his real name for security reasons, said that the number of doctors who emigrated from Syrian government-controlled areas exceeded 70%. “The low salaries and lack of patients prompted many doctors to travel to other countries to look for better job opportunities,” he added.

For his part, Ghassan Fandy, the head of the Syrian Doctors Syndicate, told Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the Damascus government, late last year that the majority of medical graduates have been inclined to choose medical specialties that generate faster profits.

Fandy said that in order for the government to solve the shortage in the number of doctors in certain specializations, a panoply of studies and plans is needed.

Regarding the number of plastic surgeons in Damascus, Moussa said that there are around 100 of them, excluding dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons.

He added that there are large medical centers for plastic surgery that are being established in Damascus and elsewhere in Syria to meet the increasing demand. 

He pointed out that in addition to Syrian women, Lebanese, Jordanian and Gulf women are also coming to Syria to undergo such surgeries because of the great experience that Syrian plastic surgeons have gained in this field.

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