To baldly go... to Turkey for a hair replacement op

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A hair specialist checks a patient in Istanbul. (FIle/AFP)
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Turkey has skilled practitioners, latest technology and offers good aftercare. (AN photo)
Updated 21 April 2018
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To baldly go... to Turkey for a hair replacement op

  • Cheaper hair transplants clinics have emerged in Turkey, offering the same surgical techniques and medical as Europe
  • Up to 500 hair transplants are carried out every week across Turkey, mostly on foreigners

ISTANBUL:  They say that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory, but what about men? Men are just as attached emotionally to the hair on their head, perhaps even more so since they are far more likely to lose it.

For Arab men, the risk of losing a much-prized good head of hair is even greater. As well as genetic factors, the hot, dry climate of the Middle East, and the local habit of covering the head make hair preservation more difficult. 

Hair transplants are one answer, but the costs are high: Around $25,000 in European clinics. However, in recent years, cheaper alternatives have emerged in Turkey, offering the same surgical techniques and medical care as Europe, but at a fraction of the price — as much as 90 percent cheaper.

Depending on the type of operation, hair transplants cost between $1,500 and $3,000. Combined with its proximity to the Middle East, all this adds up to making Turkey the destination of choice for balding men from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Somalia. And men from Europe and the US have also been traveling to have the procedure.

Up to 500 hair transplants are carried out every week across the country. Of the 100,000 or so procedures carried out in Turkey in 2016, 65,000 were on foreign patients.

One of them was Dr. Suheyl Jubara, 42, a Kuwaiti-born dentist of Jordanian origin who has worked in a Turkish state hospital for 21 years. He was intrigued by the Arab men he often saw at the airports with black bandages wrapped around their heads, waiting for their flight home.

He began studying hair transplant techniques. “Finally on a cold Ankara morning a few weeks ago, I found myself here at this clinic where the whole staff guided me very well throughout the process,” he said.

Istanbul alone has around 350 licensed hair restoration clinics. Some have branches in other major cities such as Ankara, Izmir and Bursa, the cities most visited by Arab tourists.

One of the biggest, Estetik International, where Dr. Jubara was treated, opened its first overseas branch in Dubai last year.

 

Follicular transfer

Founded in 1999 by Dr. Bulent Cihantimur, Estetik International uses cutting-edge technology. The most common procedure, known as organic hair transplantation, involves injecting the patient with a chemical mixture that also contains his own fatty tissue and stem cells. This mixture nourishes the scalp, creating prime conditions for transplanted hair to grow. Another procedure, follicular transfer, involves harvesting hair follicles from the back of the patient’s head and inserting them through micro cuts in the bald area. The procedure takes six to eight hours, and is followed by six weeks of vitamin and protein injections. Results show after three to four months.

Dr. Jubara’s follicular transfer was so successful that his brother and brother-in-law were persuaded to come to Turkey to have the same procedure. His own self-confidence improved dramatically, he added. 

“I’m still impressed by my before and after pictures. With the happiness I discovered in the new me, I found the love of my life, a Turkish girl. We are getting engaged next week,” he told Arab News. 

Privacy is another factor, he added. Some clinics offer package deals that include collection from the airport, a private driver and a hotel stay during the after-care period. Many Arab patients take a holiday at one of Turkey’s southern resorts first, then book into a clinic after they’ve sent the family home.

But experts warn that there are reportedly several hundred clinics operating illegally in Istanbul alone. While the transplant industry in Turkey is supposedly regulated, unlicensed clinics are able to attract customers because in a highly competitive market they are invariably cheaper. 

However, since they are by nature “underground” setups, they are also less likely to adhere to clinical standards, not least because most do not operate from hospital premises. In short, patients have no way knowing if an unlicensed clinic is safe.

“The operations must be carried out under hospital-standard hygiene conditions and with the guidance of a specialist doctor, otherwise there is always the risk of losing the remaining hair without regaining any hair,” said Makbule Ezmeoglu, director of the Ankara branch of Estetik International told Arab News.

There are other dangers. Last year, an Iraqi-born British citizen was beaten up and robbed by a gang at a so-called hair transplant clinic. The man, who worked for an international money transfer company in London, had booked his treatment on the Internet and flew to Istanbul, where he was met by four people and installed in an upmarket hotel. 

Shortly afterwards, two people arrived supposedly to collect him for surgery. 

Instead they drove him to a remote part of Istanbul where they tied him up, beat him and stole his money, his mobile phones and two expensive watches. They then threw him out into the street in the early hours. He was so badly hurt that he had to be hospitalized. 

His stolen property was recovered after a police investigation.

Ozgur Unlu had a hair transplant 10 years ago when it was relatively new to Turkey and stresses the importance of research before committing to treatment. 

“Personally I care very much about my health and my looks, so I had the operation in a very well-known private hospital in Istanbul. I also advised my friends to do the same,” he told Arab News. 

“Potential patients should also carry out in-depth research about the current hair transplant techniques that are used in Turkey, and should also examine the clinics and their reputation in the sector, rather than being attracted by the marketing techniques.

“As the Turkish saying goes, the game is not worth the candle. So, one should be careful about the potential health risks in this competitive sector and avoid falling into the trap of the criminal networks that offer lower prices, but higher health risks at the end.”


Worth the sting: Cuba’s scorpion pain remedy

Farmer Pepe Casanas poses with a scorpion in Los Palacios, Cuba, December 5, 2018. Picture taken December 5, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 December 2018
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Worth the sting: Cuba’s scorpion pain remedy

  • In Cuba, where tens of thousands of patients have been treated with Vidatox, each vial costs under a dollar
  • The scorpions are caught in the wild as Labiofam workers believe their venom — which is not dangerous — is not as potent when raised in captivity

HAVANA: Once a month for the last decade, Pepe Casanas, a 78-year-old Cuban farmer, has hunted down a scorpion to sting himself with, vowing that the venom wards off his rheumatism pains.
His natural remedy is no longer seen as very unusual here.
Researchers in Cuba have found that the venom of the blue scorpion, whose scientific name is Rhopalurus junceus, endemic to the Caribbean island, appears to have anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties, and may be able to delay tumor growth in some cancer patients.
While some oncologists abroad say more research is needed to be able to properly back up such a claim, Cuban pharmaceutical firm Labiofam has been using scorpion venom since 2011 to manufacture the homeopathic medicine Vidatox.
The remedy has proven popular.
Labiofam Business Director Carlos Alberto Delgado told Reuters sales were climbing 10 percent annually. Vidatox already sells in around 15 countries worldwide and is currently in talks with China to sell the remedy there.
In Cuba, where tens of thousands of patients have been treated with Vidatox, each vial costs under a dollar. On the black market abroad it can cost hundred times that — retailers on Amazon.com are seen selling them for up to $140.
“I put the scorpion where I feel pain,” Casanas said while demonstrating his homemade pain relief with a scorpion that he found under a pile of debris on the patch of land he cultivates in Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Rio.
After squeezing it long enough, it stung him and he winced.
“It hurts for a while, but then it calms and goes and I don’t have any more pain,” he said.
Casanas, a leathery-skinned former tobacco farmer who now primarily grows beans for his own consumption, said he sometimes keeps a scorpion under his straw hat like a lucky charm.
It likes the shade and humidity, he says, so just curls up and sleeps.

FROM FARM TO LAB
In a Labiofam laboratory in the southern Cuban city of Cienfuegos, workers dressed in scrubs and hairnets tend to nearly 6,000 scorpions housed in plastic containers lined up on rows of metal racks.
Every few days they feed and water the arachnids that sit on a bed of small stones. Once a month, they apply an 18V electrical jolt to their tails using a handcrafted machine in order to trigger the release of a few drops of venom.
The venom is then diluted with distilled water and shaken vigorously, which homeopathic practitioners believe activates its “vital energy.”
The scorpions are caught in the wild as Labiofam workers believe their venom — which is not dangerous — is not as potent when raised in captivity.
After two years of exploitation in the “escorpionario,” they are released back into the wild.
Dr. Fabio Linares, the head of Labiofam’s homeopathic medicine laboratory who developed the medicine, said Vidatox stimulates the body’s natural defense mechanisms.
“After four to five years (of taking it), the doctor whose care I was in told me that my cancer hadn’t advanced,” said Cuban patient Jose Manuel Alvarez Acosta, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008.
Still, Labiofam recommends Vidatox as a supplemental treatment and says it should not replace conventional ones.