Gastric balloon treatment drawing overweight from overseas to Czech Republic

In recent years medical tourism has become a real growth industry, with many travelling to former communist bloc states to take advantage of relatively affordable health care. The latest example of this is western Europeans getting treatment in the Czech Republic – for obesity.

At a clinic near the centre of Prague, Dr Anna Jungwirthová outlines the method she and her colleagues use to treat obesity.

“It’s a gastric balloon, about 11 cm in diameter and filled with sterilised liquid, and it stays in the stomach for six months.”

Elisabeth is from Brighton in the UK and has herself been having the treatment.

“They insert it, it’s non-surgical, they insert it through the back of your throat and into your stomach. It’s supposed to suppress your appetite, because it fills about 75 percent of your stomach.”

Even including travel and accommodation, treatment in the Czech Republic costs half what it does in the UK.

“I was just surfing the ‘net really, looking up weight-loss procedures, and this is something I’d never heard about before. I was surfing the ‘net and I thought, that looks quite interesting…I was going to have it done in the UK but it was twice the price – it was 4,000 pounds, whereas it was just under 2,000 pounds for a whole sort of package, with travel costs etceteras in Prague. So I thought, I’ll go to Prague!”

As for the actual outcome, Elisabeth says while she has seen some improvement, results have been mixed.

“Noticeably you only need a very small amount to eat. But I did find after three, three and a half months it didn’t seem to have any affect at all. I didn’t know it was there and I found I could eat the same amount of food. So I think it only worked for a few months...I mean, I lost nine kilogrammes, which, you know, is a weight loss…so it has worked, but I haven’t lost any weight in the last couple of months at all.”

The company New You Ltd has been bringing people like Elisabeth to Prague for two years now. It’s owned by Tony Ferguson.

“We have an office in Northampton and we have an office here in Prague. We provide cosmetic surgery and weight-loss procedures, primarily for people coming from the UK. The number is rising so it’s difficult to give you a projection, because the numbers are going up every month. As Britain becomes more obese this procedure becomes more sought after. I would say the approximate numbers would be between a hundred and two hundred we’re expecting for next year. It’s closer to two hundred.”