*This article is brought to you by APRASSA: The Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons of Southern Africa*
Find a plastic surgeon www.aprassa.co.za | +27 (0)11 784 4537
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the aesthetics market in South Africa? Reports show a disparity between practices that have experienced revenue loss and those that have not, with the demand for less invasive treatments seems to be on the rise. Written by Dr Marshall Murdoch.
The South African Covid-19 context
We are now one year into our Covid-19 pandemic and still reeling from its impact. South Africa has been particularly hard-hit in not only its absolute numbers (our highest ranking was 6th) but also in terms of the toll the virus has taken on life and health. The Bloomberg Covid Resilience Ranking measures the largest 53 economies’ success at containing the virus while minimising social and economic disruption. As of this writing, SA ranks second to last.
South Africa is a country of extreme healthcare disparity, which has been an unresolved issue for 27 years. Sadly, this is only one facet of the profound inequality noted on every level of society. In fact, The World Bank reported SA to have the worst measured Gini Index (63%) in 2019 – meaning that we live in the most unequal place on earth! This means that the personal wealth of the top 50 000 citizens (0.1% of the population) constitutes one-third of the total personal national wealth.
The luxury of aesthetic treatments
It thus goes without saying that aesthetic treatments remain a luxury, funded with discretionary income as an out-of-pocket (OOP) medical expense. Currently, 0.06% of the GDP is used for such OOPs – with aesthetics obviously being a smaller slice of this. In other words, this means that potential aesthetic patients are a small group, while their potential fund pool being very large.
The Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons of Southern Africa (APRASSA) have conducted a member survey to assess the impact of the pandemic.
In terms of lost revenue, nearly 50% reported a moderate loss, and 38% reported a severe loss. Interestingly, a minority of surgeons noted no impact at all. Indeed, nearly 20% reported seeing less than 5% of their usual cosmetic patient load, compared to that of another 20% who continued to operate as usual. It is very likely that such variance stems from the broader social disparity related to practice location and demographics.
Aesthetic trends during Covid
Unlike many other countries, all medical treatments have been acceptable after lockdown level 4 was reached. Without a statutory prohibition, many professional groups did not impose practice guidelines on their members but reverted to the discretion of individual practitioners.
APRASSA notes that for minimally invasive treatments, botulinum toxin remains the most popular and filler treatments are a more distant second. While breast surgery remains the most popular treatment area, cancer reconstruction has taken on far greater importance and is the largest procedure category – which mirrors the experience of surgeons in Australia, Europe and the US. Aesthetic surgery seems to have taken a back seat to a renewed focus on reconstructive surgery.
With regard to the broader aesthetic community, there is no hard data on the current state of aesthetic treatments in SA and what follows is anecdotal evidence that I have obtained from interviewing many of my colleagues.
Covid impacts on aesthetic practice
Many practices have noted increased consumption of less invasive procedures, such as botulinum toxin, peels, and microdermabrasion. This trend is driven in part by the desire to stay “safe”, even if this is only a perception. Another potent driver is the increased use of work-related video conferencing. Patients have more time to study detailed aspects of their appearance and those of their colleagues.
Furthermore, the work-from-home trend allows people to spend more time focusing on exercise, health and diet which might otherwise have been neglected. Once this body consciousness begins, patients soon turn to aesthetic practitioners to get “to the next level”. A final piece of the puzzle is the closure of international borders. Without the opportunity for leisure travel, many patients have taken such ear-marked resources and diverted them towards aesthetic treatments.
Aesthetics constitute a small segment of private healthcare, accessible only by a minority of patients. Pre-existing practice demographics also continue to determine each practitioner’s potential “pool”. However, in times of financial challenges, those who are able, and wish to spend, will increasingly look for value, both in experience and outcomes. Now is the time to be innovative…
(APRASSA is the Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Plastic Surgery of Southern Africa. To find an APRASSA member plastic surgeon please go to www.aprassa.co.za or call +27 11 784 4537).
Written by Dr Marshall Murdoch
BSc, MB BCh, FC PlastSurg (SA)
- Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon www.drmjmurdoch.co.za
- Special interests in aesthetics, oncoplastic reconstructive surgery and microsurgery
- Executive committee member of ISAPS and APRASSA www.aprassa.co.za
A2 Disclaimer: This article is published for information purposes only, nor should it be regarded as a replacement for sound medical advice.
This article was written by Dr Marshall Murdoch and edited by the A2 team EXCLUSIVELY for the A2 Aesthetic & Anti-Ageing Magazine Autumn 2021 Edition (Issue 36 – Mar 2021 to Jun 2021).
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