“Holidaymakers getting a facelift need not just lounge with the lions -- some clients prefer wine safaris to wildlife. Whatever their preference..."

Becky Anderson


13 August 2002

Beauty and the bush

Tourists enjoy safari with surgery, but some experts worry

Going under the knife while on safari is the new holiday trend in South Africa

Going under the knife while on safari is the new holiday trend in South Africa

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A new tourist attraction is bringing together luxury safaris and cosmetic surgery.

But it's also leaving some medical experts worried about the consequences.

Surgeon & Safari is one of several companies marketing the South African package holidays to Europeans and Americans, many of whom are tempted by the favourable exchange rates -- as well as the idea of recovering from surgery away from home.

Begun in 1999 by former marketing executive Lorraine Melvill, Surgeon & Safari offers facelifts from $3,900 -- a bargain compared to similar procedures in the United States, where the price is an average of $15,000.

By adding an extra $2,500 to the cost, patients can also enjoy a two-day safari, having healed their scars in five-star hotels before facing family and friends.

To Melvill, a nominee for South African Businesswoman of the Year, it all makes perfect financial sense.

"South Africa has had a negative reputation for a long time. The fact is that we actually have highly qualified hospitality venues and wonderful game lodges who know how to treat international clients," Melville says.

"We have world-class surgeons, nursing facilities, clinics, and by bringing it together I felt I could show the outside world some of the many good things about this country."

"It's First World treatment at Third World prices," she adds.

A personal assistant accompanies Surgeon & Safari patients throughout their holiday, arranging airport transfers, medical consultations and the safari.

Kimberly Basil is one of the many patients buying into this new package.

"People all over the world want surgery done to make themselves feel better, and I think the fact that you can combine it with a vacation and it be anonymous to your friends are your family ... it's a great package," Basil says.

A part of the surgery package is to enjoy South African wildlife  

Some members of the medical community are sceptical, though, saying the pre-op doctor-patient dialogue carried out over the Internet and the phone -- using recent photographs and medical letters -- does not compare with real-life, face-to-face consultations.

Experts say it's also imperative that patients' motivations and expectations are explored before the operation.

"It's packaged as if these people are going to have a haircut," says Dr. Lawrence Chait, a plastic surgeon. "I don't think all these possible complications and problems that can occur are mentioned."

Tom Ford of the Association for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons in Southern Africa told The Associated Press: "Sometimes clients come here and having paid for travelling and holiday, a doctor might feel obliged to go through with the operation, even if the person is not suited."

But Melvill defends the safety of having the surgery done overseas.

"We are very selective in who we admit to surgery. People suffering from anorexia, severe overweight or psychological problems will be rejected," she says.

"We try to encourage an informed choice that goes both ways, keeping patients in the clinic for a minimum of two days to deal with any complications that might occur 24 hours after surgery. After this, our patients are welcome to return to their luxury hotels, and eventually, their safaris."

Surgeons involved with Melvill's company say that 50 percent of their patients now come from abroad, compared with 10 percent just four years ago. Most of those new patients are from Britain and the United States.

"Obviously it has been a great boost to my practice," says Dr. Rick van der Poel, a Johannesburg plastic surgeon. "Suddenly we are getting a lot of cosmetic patients from overseas and it basically has almost doubled my practice."

Holidaymakers getting a facelift need not just lounge with the lions -- some clients prefer wine safaris to wildlife. Whatever their preference, companies such as Surgeon & Safari have been a boost to the local tourist industry as well as local surgeons.

-- CNN's Becky Anderson and Katrine Lundgreen contributed to this report.


Last Update: