The global cosmetic surgery market is booming, with millions seeking procedures to enhance their appearance.
But the quest for the perfect body can take a deadly turn in unexpected places.
In some international destinations recognised for high rates of procedures, lax regulations, unqualified practitioners, and a relentless pursuit of profit create a deadly cocktail for unsuspecting patients.
According to Patients Beyond Borders, health care travel is believed to be growing at a rate of roughly 15 to 25 percent a year and is led by cosmetic surgery.
The International Society of Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS) reported that plastic surgery procedures grew by 11.2 percent overall, representing more than 14.9 million procedures performed worldwide in 2022.
Josef Woodman, Patients Beyond Borders CEO said market growth has been steady around 25 percent to 30 percent annually for the past 15 years, with more expected in the next five years, in a report.
“Once the domain of the rich and famous, heading to exotic destinations for cosmetic treatment is now accessible to a wider range of patients seeking quality, affordable care,” Woodman said.
Here are a few of such destinations:
Deaths after cosmetic surgeries undergone in the Dominican Republic has made it one of the most notorious destinations for body makeover.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93 Americans have died after cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic since 2009, with many of the recent deaths involving a procedure known as a Brazilian butt lift.
A Brazilian butt lift involves injecting fat but about two dozen of the deaths were the result of fat or blood clots getting into the lungs or bloodstream.
“Be informed about who is doing your surgery, the qualifications of the person doing your surgery, and whether or not the facility is capable of doing the surgery and whether it is capable of providing adequate post-operative care — which is crucial,” Matthew Hudson, the author of a recent study that raised an alarm on the menace said.
The Dominican Republic is known as a friendly island vacation spot, offering breast implants, liposuction and other operations at lower prices. After an increase in U.S. deaths in 2019 and 2020, the U.S. Embassy contacted the CDC, which investigated along with the Dominican Republic Ministry of Health.
They tallied 93 cosmetic surgery-related deaths of U.S. citizens in the Dominican Republic from 2009 to 2022, or an average of about seven a year. All but one were women.
Sporadic reports also have come out of Mexico, including last year when patients were stricken with fungal meningitis after undergoing cosmetic procedures in the border city of Matamoros. Two clinics were closed and a dozen deaths reported.
It’s an under-dealing but there are victims of a “ghost doctor,” the name given to someone who performs a surgery another surgeon was hired for when the patient is under general anesthetic.
The practice is illegal in South Korea, but activists say weak regulations in the country’s booming $10.7 billion-dollar plastic surgery industry have allowed factory-like clinics, where unqualified staff substitute for surgeons, to thrive, according to CNN.
Doctors sometimes simultaneously conduct multiple operations – meaning they rely on substitutes who may be freshly qualified plastic surgeons, dentists, nurses, or, in some cases, medical equipment sales people – to undertake some of the work for them.
These crimes are hard to prove as many substitute doctors don’t note down the work they have done and many clinics don’t have CCTV cameras.
Reports of deaths after cosmetic surgeries have repeatedly surfaced in the United States, most often in Florida.
The US CDC has issued a separate report of about 15 cases of bacterial infections in women who went to one Florida cosmetic surgery centre in 2022.
Investigation of a case of Nontuberculous mycobacteria NTM infection in a patient who received a cosmetic surgical procedure in Florida identified a total of 15 cases in nine states in patients who received cosmetic surgical procedures at the same facility in Florida. Multiple lapses in infection control and prevention were found at an outpatient cosmetic surgery clinic operating with the same staff members.