June 29, 2006

Expat Pakistanis head home to fuel makeover boom

By Arshad Sharif

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Fancy a tummy tuck or face lift? How
about a hair transplant?

Such surgical procedures are de rigueur in the West, but
the trend is now also catching on in an unlikely country --
conservative Pakistan.

Lured by the cheap cost, expatriate Pakistanis are among
the biggest customers returning to their homeland for cosmetic
surgery in what is a rapidly expanding business in the
predominantly Muslim country.

Hamayun Mohmand's Hair Transplant Institute in Islamabad is
typical of clinics in Pakistan that offer breast enlargement,
tummy tucks, face lifts, nose jobs and hair transplants.

He says most of his customers are people of Pakistani
origin from overseas. "My biggest concentration of people is
from the United States. Second is the U.K.," Mohmand told
Reuters at his clinic in the capital.

Other customers getting treatment at a tenth of the price
they would have to pay in the West include people of Pakistani
descent from continental Europe, especially Norway and Denmark,
and a few from Australia, he said.

Ijaz Ahmed, a businessman of Pakistani origin from the
British city of Manchester, said he had hair transplant work
done in Britain and Greece but he wasn't satisfied with the

Then a friend recommended Pakistan.

"I was worried about rip-offs but I got some references and
people said good things about their experiences in Pakistan,"
Ahmed said.

"I came to Pakistan, taking a risk, but I've had absolutely
no problem.

"One of my friends used to go all the way to Thailand
because it's very cheap there but Pakistan is also very
similar. I'm from Pakistan and decided to get it here," he


But it's not just people from overseas who are flocking to
improve their appearances at clinics in Pakistan.

Steadily rising economic growth is bringing with it the
ways of a Western consumer culture, especially in its biggest
cities -- Lahore and Karachi.

And looking good is as important in Pakistan as it is
anywhere else.

"With television programmes like Oprah Winfrey and the
complete make-over programmes, people have become more
conscious of their image. They've started to believe in looking
good," Mohmand said.

Affluent urban woman are fuelling the boom.

"I got a nose job done before my marriage as I didn't like
the parrot shape of it," said one middle class woman who asked
not to be named.

"It's worth spending the money to look beautiful and be
confident if you can afford it."

Another Islamabad-based cosmetic surgeon, Nadeem Pasha,
said the daughters of elite families, in their 20s and 30s, as
well as women from the world of show business were setting the

"Film actresses are among the biggest clients of plastic
surgeons in Lahore," said Pasha, who declined to identify any
celebrities among his customers.

Doctors say the latest craze among women is to enlarge
their breasts.

The process takes a day and costs nearly 100,000 rupees
($1,600) but post-operative care and consultations may push up
the bill, Pasha said.

"But even then, it's a lot cheaper in Pakistan than in the
U.S. or the U.K. where a similar operation might cost $7,000 to
$8,000," he said.

The reputation of Pakistani cosmetic surgeons and the low
prices they charge is spreading through word of mouth and on
the Internet but dangers lurk.

Doctors says there are only a 100 qualified plastic
surgeons in Pakistan but many more than that are practicing.

"There are lots of doctors who are actually, by
qualification and training, not plastic surgeons but who are
calling themselves plastic surgeons," Mohmand said.

"Unfortunately, it happens around the world, but there are
no checks in Pakistan. Those I call qualified quacks are quite
a few."