Serbia taps crisis-hit Westerners for medical tourism

Serbia taps crisis-hit Westerners for medical tourism

20th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

After a decade of wars, Serbia’s medical industry sees a road to economic recovery: foreign patients.

Each summer, Julia Karstens of Germany has her teeth checked in Serbia, where authorities are eager to lure tourists seeking cheaper medical bills amid the global economic crisis.

"A friend of Serbian origin invited me to come with her to see a dentist in her country,” said Karstens. “This is how it all began."

Karstens said she was "very satisfied with the quality of service," but insisted cheaper prices were the main reason for her trips to the former Yugoslav republic.

"In Germany, I pay 60 euros (80 dollars) for a tooth filling, while here the whole crown costs less," she explained.

Inspired by such cases, Serbia has begun to develop its medical tourism industry.

And, hit by fallout from the worldwide financial crisis, many in the West have been looking for destinations where treatment can be much cheaper than in their home countries.

Looking to build

While lacking the sun and sand of more established medical tourism hubs in Asia, for instance, Serbia is located conveniently near the European Union and has high standards of treatment, said its economic ministry.

"We offer good quality medical services as well as competitive prices," said Renata Pindzo, an official in charge of tourism.

Pindzo noted however that stronger investments were necessary in order to offer services which would satisfy the demands of foreign tourists.

AFP PHOTO / Andrej Isakovic
Serbia, Belgrade: Doctor Milan Radivojevic head of the Medical Center, a private clinic in Belgrade, displays a silicone breast implant on 13 April 2009

Milan Radivojevic, a doctor in the private clinic Medical Centar in Belgrade said he has treated patients from abroad, mainly for cosmetic surgery, for more than 15 years.

"We have had customers coming even from Australia, Canada," he said.
Radivojevic said surgery in Serbia is much cheaper than in Western Europe.

"For breast augmentation, for example, the price is about 2,500 euros (3,320 dollars),” he said. “This amount includes all prices linked to this service" -- including accommodation. "Nose surgery costs between 1,600 and 2,000 euros (2,120 and 2,650 dollars)."

Combo deals

Private-owned clinics in Serbia have now joined the ranks in order to promote medical tourism in Serbia, getting in touch with tourism officials and economic experts from various ministries.

The plan is to entice patients who come to Serbia for surgery or other medical services with the country’s other assets, like its tourist sites or numerous thermal spas, said Ivana Vranic, a doctor and one of the promoters of the initiative.

Public hospitals, neglected during years of crisis and economic sanctions in the 1990s, are presently unable to offer such services. They often have obsolete infrastructure and outdated equipment.

The first offers of medical tourism in Serbia were mostly aimed at the country's large global migrant community who take advantage of family visits to obtain medical care at reasonable prices.

AFP PHOTO / Andrej Isakovic
A medical worker cleans the surgery at the Medical Center, a private clinic in Belgrade

"They were happy with our services and recommended us to their friends,” said Radivojevic. “Word of mouth did the rest."

Radivojevic said he is convinced that the negative image of Serbia, present in the West during a decade of wars in 1990s in the Balkans, is now a thing of the past.
He said he had confidence in Serbia's future in medical tourism.

Said Radivojevic: "The fear of the Balkans is beginning to disappear and we now have the same status as other clinics in the world.”

Suzana Markovic/AFP/Expatica

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