To doctor’s office... while on holiday

[b]Vitebsk region keen to develop medical tourism on major scale[/b]Ranking the most popular events and places for sightseeing, which attract foreign guests to Vitebsk region, we immediately think of sites relating to Chagall, Pen, Malevich and Repin. We might consider the Polotsk National History and Culture Museum-Reserve, Sofia Cathedral, Braslav Lakes National Park with its recreation facilities, Berezinsky Landscape Reserve’s ecological and water routes and, of course, the Slavonic Bazaar Festival. I’d never before seen so many tourists with cameras, trying to photograph everything, as I did at the last International Festival of Arts in Vitebsk. Of course, it’s hardly surprising. The city has recently witnessed the opening of its revamped Pobedy Square – one of the largest in Europe. It boasts the most beautiful pedestrian area: Suvorov Street, with its restored Church of St. Resurrection, located in the city centre. There is so much to see, as confirmed by statistics; over the past five years, the number of foreign guests visiting the region has risen by approximately 40 percent. Some come for business, while others seek nostalgia; some wish to study the beautiful churches while others are keen to use the sports facilities or take advantage of the excellent medical services on offer.
Vitebsk region keen to develop medical tourism on major scale

Ranking the most popular events and places for sightseeing, which attract foreign guests to Vitebsk region, we immediately think of sites relating to Chagall, Pen, Malevich and Repin. We might consider the Polotsk National History and Culture Museum-Reserve, Sofia Cathedral, Braslav Lakes National Park with its recreation facilities, Berezinsky Landscape Reserve’s ecological and water routes and, of course, the Slavonic Bazaar Festival.
I’d never before seen so many tourists with cameras, trying to photograph everything, as I did at the last International Festival of Arts in Vitebsk. Of course, it’s hardly surprising. The city has recently witnessed the opening of its revamped Pobedy Square – one of the largest in Europe. It boasts the most beautiful pedestrian area: Suvorov Street, with its restored Church of St. Resurrection, located in the city centre. There is so much to see, as confirmed by statistics; over the past five years, the number of foreign guests visiting the region has risen by approximately 40 percent. Some come for business, while others seek nostalgia; some wish to study the beautiful churches while others are keen to use the sports facilities or take advantage of the excellent medical services on offer.
Almost half of all the rooms in Vitebsk region sanatoriums are occupied by guests from Russia. It’s not only our Belarusian health resorts which enjoy popularity; some visitors come to Vitebsk especially to use Maternity Hospital No.1. The recent reconstruction of the hospital has rendered it the equal of any in Europe. Others seek proctology treatment at the 2nd Regional Hospital – known for its up-to-date medical technologies. Perhaps this is why a new travel agency is soon to appear in Vitebsk, specialising in medical services for foreign tourists.
Alongside the above mentioned medical fields, Vitebsk region is known for its well-developed services in cardio surgery, paediatrics, cosmetology and dentistry. Patients suffering from cancer may also seek high level treatment here. A recent survey shows that, for residents of Smolensk and Pskov regions, it’s more convenient to come to Vitebsk than to Moscow or St. Petersburg. Moreover, during the financial crisis, medical services in the Baltic and Scandinavian states have become less affordable. It’s no surprise that Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians and, even, Swedes make use of the services offered by Belarusian clinics.
“We have hospitals, equipment and specialists ready to render high-quality services for a fee,” explains Yuri Derkach, who heads the Health Care Department for Vitebsk’s Regional Executive Committee. “We’ve tried to rival the latest medical centres, specialising in services for foreigners and focusing on their needs,” he explains. 1.3bln has been assigned for the reconstruction and equipment of a dental polyclinic in Glubokoe, due to open this autumn. This state-run clinic is part of Glubokoe Central Regional Hospital, while being run as a commercial project paying for itself within three years. In the summer time, when Glubokoe receives many vacationers, we may see queues for the dentist’s office; this being the case, we’ll send specialists from Vitebsk to help. During autumn and winter, the complex will serve local residents, while also offering chargeable services,” Mr. Derkach notes.
A similar centre specialising in cosmetology is soon to open in Baran, near Orsha, located at a former local enterprise, overlooking a picturesque river bank. After reconstruction costing $300,000, it will start offering such services as liposuction, face lifts and breast surgery. The situation in Braslav district is now being examined, with similar medical institutions perhaps to be opened there.
“Medicine can be profitable,” Mr. Derkach stresses. “We’re investing in clinics oriented towards foreign patients able to pay for services, since this allows Belarusian doctors to earn higher salaries while giving them an incentive for professional growth and providing an extended range of chargeable services to the public. In the long run, it reduces the cost of health care for the state.”
Today, Vitebsk hospitals are closely co-operating with Russian partners. Specialists from the region’s Health Care Department hope that Vitebsk and Belarusian travel agencies will soon become regular suppliers of clients for medical tours. Our own tourist office is opening as part of Vitebsk’s Regional Clinical Hospital, co-ordinating all information and work.
“We plan to promote Vitebsk region’s medical services within a year,” asserts Mr. Derkach. “By next summer, we’ll have prepared the necessary information for Belarusian travel offices and will have launched a website giving sufficient knowledge of services and prices to potential clients.”
Naturally, medical tourism requires further development, with hotel construction and road services a priority, alongside the beautification of towns and the improvement of beaches and recreational sites. Why shouldn’t a Russian guest coming to Glubokoe to visit a dentist also visit St. Yevfrosiniya Monastery in Polotsk or Repin’s Museum-House in Zdravnevo?
The Bella Dvina project (reviving the Varangians to the Greeks route) has its own tourist enquiry centre offering free advice and information on local tourist opportunities. In autumn, a similar centre is to open in Vitebsk, while a steamboat route is launching along the Zapadnaya Dvina River. Guests may arrive seeking medical services in Vitebsk region but shouldn’t limit themselves to this alone, since there are so many sights to see. As the saying goes, why not combine business with pleasure.

By Sergey Golesnik
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