Top spots for medical adventures

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Want it modified, enhanced, drilled out, implanted or just plain alleviated? In this excerpt from Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences, we show that whatever the medical need, there's a place for you.

India

Although the very visible poverty and social ills might scare some off, getting your eyes fixed in a country where 'hey, didn’t it look like that god had eight arms?' just might make sense. Eye surgery is just one of the advanced treatments offered in India, where top doctors commandeer the latest technologies and speak faultless English. The Aravind eye-care system, centred in Madurai but with hospitals around India, is a remarkable program originally designed to minimise unnecessary blindness; in addition to foreigners, it has helped over 2.4 million poor Indians to s ee in the past 30 years. Aravind’s Eye Hospitals treat everything from glaucoma to cataracts and even eye replacement. Patients relax in private suites costing US$20 per day.

Beijing, China

Somehow, experiencing acupuncture in its home setting just feels right – especially when you get the balms, oils and smelly unguents of traditional Chinese medicine. In fact, since 1975 Beijing has been home to the International Acupuncture Training Centre, a university for foreign doctors who want to have a stab at it. There are many treatment centres about the city. And, along with this ancient Chinese wisdom, the People’s Republic is pioneering stem cell treatments, offering patients with the gravest conditions a chance to try new treatments banned (usually for political reasons) by their home governments. If you want to be the prick- ee rather than the prick-er, book yourself a treatment at Dongzhimen Hospital .

Colombia

North Americans and others head to Colombia for complex treatments performed by crack doctors at bargain rates. Cities such as Bogotá , Colombia’s capital, offer a wide variety of medical treatments and operations. Specialities in Colombia include joint surgeries, and getting a hip replaced or 'resurfaced' costs one-fifth of the cost of US hospitals, while the prosthetics used are of high international quality. Many Colombian doctors are foreign trained as well. Colombia is also often visited for procedures that range from dentistry and cosmetic surgery to open-heart surgery. December to March is Bogotá’s dry season; the city is perched 2600m above sea level so be sure to allow a couple of days to acclimatise when you arrive.

Nuuk, Greenland

If you happen to be in Greenland and, say, a polar bear bites your arm off, don’t just leave it there! Dronning Ingrids Hospital, in the southwestern capital of Nuuk , is the main hospital on this frigid maritime landmass, and is specially distinguished for performing special operations requiring very low temperatures (such as reattaching severed limbs). Built in 1954, the Dronning Ingrids doesn’t need air-conditioning, and the heating system prevents any contaminated airflow. You’ll quickly feel good as new when recovering on this sparsely populated island stuck unpromisingly between Canada and Iceland. The air is clean and, er, invigorating, and the seafood is excellent. Charter a boat with an English-speaking skipper – s ee the city from a different angle before sailing over the deserted horizon.

Tehran, Iran

How does Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad keep up such a fierce stare? We’re not implying anything, but plastic surgery in Tehran is indeed big business these days. Nose jobs are seen as especially important, interestingly enough. For Muslim women in the Islamic Republic, a nose is often one of the few body parts to be visible; however, Iranian men too think that improvising off a classic Persian nose can make them somehow more seductive. Iranian plastic surgeons do lifts, chin implants, tummy tucks and almost everything else that’s done in the West, but for less. Make sure you check the latest visa situation.

Cuba

If you arrive on a Communist-run island and have your passport and money confiscated by the authorities, one might say it just comes with the territory – or, you might actually be at Cuba’s addiction rehabilitation clinics, where it’s often standard procedure. Frequented by ordinary folks and famous figures too (Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona was one such client), Cuba’s rehab villas are renowned for their professional service and effectiveness – along with a price around half of that in the US. Rehab here mixes balmy island living with no-nonsense regimes for keeping you stonecold sober in seclusion, with the assistance of trained psychologists, doctors, sociologists and – of course – Caribbean breezes from the beach. If you want to follow in Maradona’s footsteps you can book a stint of private rehab through an operator such as Grupo Cubanacan

Skopje, Macedonia

For a decade, UN and NATO employees in the Balkans, as well as expats, have hit the Macedonian capital for affordable, high-quality dental work. Macedonian dentists are generally well trained, and many speak English. Some even have webcams , so you can get the added excitement of watching your mouth being drilled too. Everything from check-ups and fi llings to implant work and cosmetic dentistry is available, and at prices significantly less than in Western Europe or North America. Skopje’s conveniently situated en route for travellers passing through southeastern Europe, and offers a mix of history and nightlife. Flash your new smile in one of Skopje’s numerous cafes, where the in-crowd love to be seen.

Israel

Some of the world’s best medical treatment is found in Israel, and the country’s state-of-the-art facilities have made it the destination of choice for many medical tourists. Although it’s generally not a bargain, the services are wide and the skill level very high. Everything from IVF fertilisation to advanced cancer therapy is done here. Plus, the salt and unique nutrients in Israel’s Dead Sea make this a much-visited place for those with various skin problems, as well as rheumatologic and lung conditions – and floating effortlessly on this super-saline body of water, amazingly situated below sea level, is a therapeutic experience in itself. For the ultimate therapeutic treatment, slap on some Dead Sea gunk, available at many of the area’s hotels, and give yourself an invigorating mud pack.

Malaysia

Mix procedures with pleasures in Malaysia, another leading destination for medical travellers. Places like the beach resort town of Penang , on the country’s northwestern coast, are popular for breast-enhancement surgery, and package-tour companies even offer such trips. It’s good that a recuperative beach vacation is included, since doctors warn that long plane journeys after surgery can cause thrombosis. The dynamic capital, Kuala Lumpur , home to the Petronas Towers – the world’s tallest twin towers, some 451.9m high – is where more complex procedures (such as brain surgery for epilepsy) are performed. Some medical procedures at the Petronas Towers might help with epilepsy, but they’ll do nothing for vertigo sufferers who choose to access the 41st-floor skybridge.