Crossing borders to bathe in Hungary
Hungary is richly endowed with hot medicinal waters. Under about 80 percent of its territory, you can find thermal springs with temperatures ranging from 50 to 90 degrees Celsius. From Roman times these springs have been used for their curative powers. Sandor Lazko reports on why people are crossing borders to bathe in Hungary:
Hungary's spa water is used to treat various ailments, mainly locomotive diseases, inflammation of the joints and rheumatic diseases. In other places, stomach complaints and gynaecological problems are also treated, and another group of patients looking for treatment are those with skin problems, who are helped by the high concentrations of minerals, especially salt. As you can hear from Gabor Galla, the president of the Hungarian Tourism Authority, the excellent curative quality of Hungarian medicinal waters is well-known worldwide:
"Most of the clients come on their own, reading our advertisements or hearing from friends and relatives how good it is, and how high the standards of our services are. But, of course, more and more people are coming on the recommendation of their doctor. We already have some contracts with private insurance companies that are ready to cover some of the costs. We have contracts with German, Swiss, Austrian and Dutch health insurance companies."
The best-known Hungarian spa resort among foreigners is Heviz in Western Hungary, but Zalakaros, near Heviz, Hajduszoboszlo in the east and Harkany in the south also attract tens of thousands of people from foreign countries with new regional airports opening in the past two years to serve this growing need. Smaller resorts are also catching up in fame and services. One example is Morahalom, near the south-western city of Szeged, where the medical services section, called the "shoulder and knee centre", of the spa was built with support from the EU's Phare programme. That is where Agnes Balogh works:
"We have a lot of guests from Germany. They are sent by travel agencies but - many times - the news spreads from mouth to mouth. A number of German guests use the services of rheumatologist specialists here and the bill is paid for by their German insurance company. Besides, we have an increasing number of guests from the former Yugoslavia, Romania and recently from the Netherlands. Foreign patients usually take the mud pack and mud bath. We have the special Heviz-type mud. We have it brought from there. It is put on the affected body parts like elbow, knee or shoulder.
"One can say that we specialise in curing the "rusty" parts of the body, that's what our medicinal water is good for. I know of people who could hardly raise their elbow to comb their hair and any such move gave them back ache. After bathing in our water and taking a curative massage here, that is no longer a problem."
Hungarian medicinal waters have cured hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom were able to avoid surgery thanks to the curative effect of the water. Now, with Hungary a member of the European Union, this kind of "medicine over frontiers" is even more available for Western European patients.