Venezuela’s lat­est short­age: breast im­plants

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

Venezuela’s chronic short­ages have be­gun to en­croach on a cul­tural cor­ner­stone: the boob job. Beauty-ob­sessed Venezue­lans face a scarcity of brand-name breast im­plants, and women are so des­per­ate that they and their doc­tors are turn­ing to de­vices that are the wrong size or made in China, with less rig­or­ous qual­ity stan­dards.

Venezue­lans once had easy ac­cess to im­plants ap­proved by the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion. But doc­tors say the im­plants are now all but im­pos­si­ble to find be­cause re­stric­tive cur­rency con­trols have de­prived lo­cal busi­nesses of the cash to im­port for­eign goods. It may not be the gravest short­fall fac­ing the so­cial­ist South Amer­i­can coun­try, but sur­geons say the is­sue cuts to the psy­che of the im­age-con­scious Venezue­lan woman.

“The women are com­plain­ing,” said Dr. Ra­mon Zapata, pres­i­dent of the So­ci­ety of Plas­tic Sur­geons. “Venezue­lan women are very con­cerned with their self-es­teem.”

Venezuela is thought to have one of the world’s high­est plas­tic surgery rates, and the breast im­plant is the cen­tral pro­ce­dure. Doc­tors per­formed 38,500 im­plants there last year, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety of Aes­thetic Plas­tic Surgery. That makes it No. 7 in the world for the pro­ce­dure, while in to­tal pop­u­la­tion it ranks at 46th in the world with nearly 29 mil­lion peo­ple.

Un­til re­cently, women could en­ter raf­fles for im­plants held by phar­ma­cies, work­places and even cam­paign­ing politi­cians. Dur­ing re­cent anti-gov­ern­ment street demon­stra­tions, the oc­ca­sional sign about the ris­ing price of breast im­plants was mixed in with those rail­ing against food short­ages and cur­rency de­val­u­a­tion.

“It’s a cul­ture of ‘I want to be more beau­ti­ful than you.’ That’s why even peo­ple who live in the slums get im­plants,” Dr. Daniel Slo­bo­di­anik said, fid­dling with an FDA-ap­proved pouch of saline so­lu­tion no longer on sale lo­cally.

Slo­bo­di­anik used to per­form sev­eral im­plants a week, but now does closer to two a month. He says women call ev­ery day ask­ing if he has the im­plant size they’re look­ing for. When they can’t find it, they choose a sec­ond-best op­tion, almost al­ways a size up.

Breast im­plant pa­tients wait at the met­ro­pol­i­tan out­pa­tient

surgery cen­ter in Cara­cas, Venezuela.

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