NOV 17, 2002 SUN

Malaysia holiday for some includes plastic surgery

Breast enlargements, wrinkle reductions... the list of operations on offer is tempting to those who want to do it for a lower fee

By Reme Ahmad

SOME want them bigger and others a bit smaller. But everybody wants them firm and upright.
Even as Malaysia continues to woo tourists with its huge shopping malls and sunny beaches, a growing number just want to get under the plastic-surgeon's knife to make their breasts look more beautiful.
'For those with droopy breasts, they want to make them upright and restore them to normal. Most come with the blessings of their husbands for breast augmentation,' one surgeon told The Sunday Times.
'Others are young girls whose breasts never grew by much after puberty.'
Yet other patients quietly visit the specialist clinics to get rid of unwanted fat around the tummy, ugly bags under the eyelids, or to get injections to remove wrinkles.
These tourists do take to the malls and relax by the beaches - but only while recuperating after restoring their youthful looks or getting improved looks.
Two plastic surgeons say they each see about 40 patients a month, with a 'significant number' being foreigners.
Out of this, about two or three are 'breast augmentation' patients.
With some 30 such surgeons in the country, it could be assumed that the patients who go for plastic surgery number about 1,200 a month, or 14,400 a year.
The government, working hard to tout health and education tourism, naturally welcomes these visitors.
Deputy Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen said 70,000 foreigners visited Malaysia last year for 'medical tourism', most of them from South-east Asian countries.
A total of 12.8 million tourists visited Malaysia last year.
A plastic surgeon said while some of his patients come from Indonesia and Singapore, others fly in from Europe and Australia.
'It is much cheaper to do it here than in Singapore as the price is about half,' he said.
A breast augmentation operation that costs around S$9,000 in the Republic would cost about RM9,000 ringgit (S$4,200) .
A similar operation in Britain would be about four times more at 3,500 (S$21,000), he said.
The lower costs meant ample spare cash for the patient to book into hotels in Penang, whose specialist centres are well-known regionally for providing health care, and which has the added advantage of being close to sunny beaches.
At least one Penang-based travel agent has grabbed the opportunity to woo tourists by offering both the operating table and deckchairs.
But not everyone is happy to see doctors being indirectly linked to business.
A senior doctor wrote to The Star last week that he is worried about the trend. He also wondered if plastic surgeons should be listed as 'beauticians' instead.
'It may be an art - the beautician's art. But certainly not the medical art, for no medicine is being practised and what the doctor is doing is merely fulfilling the role of a beautician,' wrote Embarrassed Doctor.
But one of the plastic surgeons said the concept of the treatments is about 'restoring' a patient's looks.
'Calling it cosmetic surgery implies frivolousness. It is actually plastic surgery to restore the patients to normal,' he said.