A recent article in The Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia's "Newspaper of Record," describes a worrisome Cambodia plastic surgery landscape in this incredibly scenic country. While business is booming, so too are the horror stories.
Despite the global economic downturn, the volume of cosmetic surgery has nearly tripled in recent years. Such surgery is not for the average Cambodian, however, where annual income is about $500-600.
Medical tourists from the United States, Europe, and Australia and wealthy Cambodians comprise most of the clientele. "They mostly come for nose jobs, silicone implants, breast enlargements and scar revisions," said Davy Ariya, the owner of a cosmetic clinic in Cambodia's capital.
Prices are a small fraction of those in the United States and other Western countries. A nose job costs US $280-600 "depending on the quality of materials" used in the operation, while breast enlargements run US $1,500 to US $1,700.
Unfortunately, such rock-bottom prices are often accompanied by corresponding quality. Cambodia remains a country where the laws are loosely enforced and many doctors have little training.
Reid Sheftall, an American plastic surgeon based in Phnom Penh, claims that he frequently revises breasts or noses that have been put out of position or tissue that has been damaged under too much tension. "Some patients have had free silicone injected into their noses, faces, breasts and hands," Sheftall said. "This is very dangerous because the silicone can migrate to other parts of the body and form hard rubbery masses of scar tissue."
Sann Sary, head of the Ministry of Health's department of hospitals, notes that, "Some people have gone to learn (surgery) in neighboring countries for just several months. They come back and boast that they are skilled." And while cosmetic surgeons are required to register at Cambodia's health ministry and have proper qualifications, Sary admitted that most operate freely and illegally.
Chhim Vattey, director of Phnom Penh's Samangkar Luxe Salon, said she is surprised that so many people visit surgeons who are not properly licensed. "Look out on the streets and you'll see scores of clinics mushrooming but without real qualification and skills. That's why I still have many patients who are victims."