by Karina Sitnik
Belarus is the only post-Soviet country that accepts foreign tourists for medical treatment. While our neighbors send their citizens abroad to improve their health there, Belarus does not just help its own residents but also provides medical services to foreign tourists. The growing demand for Belarusian medical services is perfectly understandable: prices are very reasonable, doctors are highly qualified, and the country can boast many medical centres, glowing reviews from patients and comfortable accommodation. Increasing numbers of foreign patients led to the emergence of medical tourism facilitators in Belarus. Medical tourists can receive support from both private and public Belarusian healthcare facilitators. Their assistance is not limited to matching customers with clinics: they accompany tourists from their arrival to the moment they depart from the country.
We met with Vladislav Androsov, director of MedTravelBelarus, to learn why foreign tourists choose to come to our country for treatment.
Photo by MedTravelBelarus
Why do so many foreign tourists visit Belarus for medical treatment every year?
We used to think that foreign tourists are attracted in Belarus by low prices, but the more we work and communicate with patients, the clearer it becomes that the key reason is quality. If price was the only factor, then tourists would not have been coming here for so many years. I think that we started to attract foreigners with low prices, and then our doctors proved what they were really capable of. For instance, our company statistics show that about 40% of tourists came because they were advised to do so by their relatives, friends or colleagues who had already been treated in Belarus.
What are the top services in Belarusian medical tourism?
One of Belarusian fortes is, of course, dental tourism. This type of tourism is gaining momentum all over the world as many people have aesthetic and functional problems with their teeth and these services are typically not covered by insurance. Also, the prices vary a lot. Tourists mainly come to Belarus for dental treatment because it is affordable here. Compare us to Sweden: one implant there would cost you about €3,000, while Belarusian clinics offer one for just €600. This lower price does not mean lower quality. It only illustrates the existing economic disparity. For many Belarusians, €600 for an implant is a lot, and not everyone can afford it. The most popular dental surgeries among tourists include implants, prosthetics and dental whitening.
Photo from Healthline.com
Want a Hollywood smile — come to Belarus!
In modern dentistry, we have moved on to new operations which are part of the global trends. For example, patients in Belarus can receive zygomatic implants, an innovative type of implant which has been only recently introduced. These implants are special because they are installed straight into the cheekbone. These are very complex operations which can be performed in a limited number of Belarusian clinics.
The next most popular thing is plastic surgery. The most common operations are breast augmentation and facelifts for women, and nose reshaping for men. Patients often undergo the two types of procedures (dental treatment and aesthetic surgery) together in order to optimize cost and the number of visits. The prices on plastic surgery in Belarus also offers an undisputed advantage: in Western Europe, breast augmentation costs around €5,000-6,000, while in Belarus patients can have it for €2,500-€3,000. For example, one of our recent clients from the UK had a face lift in Belarus for €3,000, when at home she would have paid about €7,000 for the same surgery.
Photo by cardio.by
Check-ups and diagnostic packages would rank the third in terms of popularity. For example, for €200 you can undergo all basic medical exams. There are various packages that cater for tourists of specific genders, age groups and special needs. For example, you can have a cardiovascular examination, genetic tests or general check-up. Such packages can easily be fit into the traveler’s visa-free five-day tour. What is also important, the focus of travel will not shift to medical procedures. The check-ups are cleverly scheduled, so that tourists simply take a couple of hours in between enjoyable visits to cultural and historical sites of Minsk and pop into one of the city’s central clinics for a quick check-up, so they will still feel like “a tourist” rather than as “a patient”.
Belarus is also known for surgeries, including complex cardiological, urological and innovative ophthalmological procedures.
Photo from doc-town.de
Let’s imagine that a foreign tourist wants to visit a dentist in Belarus. What should they do?
We start working with the patient remotely. To meet the five-day visa-free entry criteria, we need to clearly understand what is the tourist’s dental situation at the moment. For that our doctors examine their dental 3D scans, compile a consultation report, so our managers can make a detailed treatment plan. The tourist, while still in his or her home country, can assess their dental profile, calculate the cost of all procedures and see examples of work done on other patients. When they do this, it is easy to determine how many visits they would need and how much it would all cost. This preparatory process usually takes from one week to six months. Such a big difference is explained by the fact that sometimes it is easier for tourist to do some procedures at home, wait for the teeth to heal and only them come to Belarus for specific treatment. For example, in case of dentistry, you may need to remove teeth, which will then take several months to heal. Therefore, thorough preliminary remote diagnostics help optimize tourists’ costs and time.
What medical centers and hospitals get the most visits from foreign tourists?
The Center of Oncology and Medical Radiology, which is located near Minsk, has more than 1,000 foreign patients every year. The center offers the full range of cancer diagnosis and treatment services. They also offer unique treatment methods, like hyperthermia against common forms of cancers, or photodynamic therapy for precancerous conditions.
Photo from omr.by
More than 400 foreign citizens visit the Center of Neurology and Neurosurgery in Minsk every year. The most popular services are: stroke diagnosis and treatment, brain and spinal cord tumors, and removal of herniated intervertebral disc.
Minsk Cardiology Center also offers a number of services to foreign citizens, including coronary angiography, stenting, coronary artery bypass grafting, radiofrequency ablation, angioplasty and stenting of the coronary arteries, prosthesis of the heart valves and embolization of uterine arteries.
The Center of Radiation Medicine and Human Ecology in Gomel does diagnostics and treatment in the following areas: immunopathology and allergology, therapy, adult and children’s oncohematology, endocrinology, gynecology, eye microsurgery, physiotherapy and medical rehabilitation, endocrine and reconstructive surgery. Since 2012, the Centre has also been doing kidney transplants.
Grodno Regional Hospital specializes in plastic and minimally invasive surgery. It offers nearly every modern method of laparoscopic abdominal surgeries. The most popular surgeries among foreign tourists are breast correction and eyelid shaping. An incentive for tourists to come to this Grodno hospital is the 10-days visa-free regime for citizens of 77 countries.
What are the main medical tourism trends today? What is becoming more popular in Belarus?
In the European Union countries, overweight affects 30-70% and obesity affects 10-30% of adults (according to World Health Organization). In recent years, Belarus has seen increasing demand for gastric banding, abdominoplasty and liposuction.
Hair transplant is becoming more popular too. This procedure is not only popular among bald people: new fashion trends lead to an increased demand too. For example, beard has been very fashionable for the past couple of years, so dozens of barber shops popped up on every corner. Since not everyone can easily grow a beard, there are medical centers in Belarus that do beard transplants.
Another thing offered in Belarus are sex change operations. These are complicated surgeries, which require a lot of planning. Also, they are quite expensive, and economic level of Belarusians allows foreigners to save a lot of money. For example, we had a patient from Miami who said that this procedure would cost him $150,000 in America, significantly less — $40,000 — in Portugal, but in the end he chose Belarus and had it for just $20,000.
Beard transplantation. Photo from wimpoleclinic.com
Does Belarus keep up with global healthcare trends?
If we look the complex, life-saving medical operations (organ transplantation in particular), Belarus is very close to becoming one of the top 20 countries that are best in this field. In some fields, our country is the best of all the post-Soviet nations: for example, we do more than 350 kidney transplants every year, which is the highest per capita indicator among CIS countries. Cardiac surgeons, oncologists and representatives of many other specialties also show great progress.