GIG: You are one of the pioneers of IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatment in Greece. Why did you set up your base here, and what is it that makes your clinic unique? What are your priorities looking ahead?
Pantos: Our name, Genesis Athens Clinic, comes from the Old Testament. The word ‘Genesis’ means ‘to bring life’ and give happiness to people who have been deprived of it – because a child does bring happiness and life to a family. This is a joy that some couples have been deprived of. I believe that every woman and every couple deserve to have a child, and we are here to help them.
We decided to open and structure this clinic in 2004, and we chose to establish ourselves in Greece because I’m of Greek origin and love this country. Of course, Greece offers many advantages. Patients want to be happy in their attempt to get pregnant, and relaxation is very important for a couple to achieve pregnancy. Greece offers this, especially with its sunshine, and couples are able to be optimistic during the process of getting what they deserve: the ability to have a child. Coming to Greece can be combined with other aspects of medical tourism, like with the hot springs that Greece has to offer or the small islands, both of which are good for relaxation.
Meanwhile Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is from Greece, and so this is another international destination brand that can help the country in developing medical tourism even further. Kos, the island where Hippocrates was born, is a unique place for the authentic Hippocratic oath to be performed by medical societies and doctors, and so we have also been striving to bring them there.
Our priorities are to increase the management, simplify the treatment process, and make IVF more affordable for couples. We also want to open new highways research-wise. We have pioneered a method called ovarian rejuvenation with platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections into ovaries of women of advanced age, so we’ve had hundreds of women coming from countries like the United States, Australia, and England who have been in menopause and had their ovaries shut down. What we’re doing is injecting platelets into their ovaries in order to rejuvenate them and for them, in effect, to start producing follicles again. Quite a few pregnancies have come about through this procedure. We’re still in the learning process and we’re trying to understand how well this works, as well as how it can be applied more successfully in the future.
GIG: How have your clinic’s patient numbers evolved over the past few years, and which international markets are most important to you? What proportion of your patients are foreign? And which countries do they predominantly come from?
Pantos: What we have aimed to do is individualise our practice to the unique problem that each woman – and each couple – has with finding a way to have a child. This has made us very successful in our endeavour to help infertile couples. We’ve carried out an awareness campaign with doctors of several specialties (in vitro fertilisation, dentistry, robotics, surgery, particularly breast surgery), and with the head of the Athens Medical Society and current Governor of Attika Dr Patoulis. We targeted the diaspora of Greek communities around the world in New York, Chicago, Montreal, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Sydney, and London. The awareness campaign consisted of testimonials by women who have undergone a successful IVF treatment. Since then, IVF has been spearheading the development of medical tourism.
We have become a main destination for IVF treatments, catering to patients originating from 67 countries around the world, because this campaign created good, happy, sentimental, and front-page news in newspapers. Through this, we have also come into contact with Greek doctors and institutions from around the world and have created collaborations. These doctors help couples come from Melbourne, for example, to Athens. But patients don’t have to come from Melbourne and stay here; they’re treated in their hometown and then they come here for the final process, which is the actual in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer. This process usually takes anywhere from 10 days to one month. To make it more affordable, and for people not to have to stay too long in Greece, treatments can now be completed in a week here after having started the process in their country of origin. For example, patients come here for the embryo transfer, stay a day or two, and then go back to their country – or they stay even longer in Greece for tourism purposes.
Many influential women – Bollywood stars or people who have written successful stories or books, some from Australia or from the U.S. – have testified to the success of their IVF treatment in Greece. This is a very strong way of promoting Greece and making the country known as a leading option to people who have such problems. Couples do not see borders when they strive for a medical solution to expand their family and, as such, IVF has become a very successful medical treatment for patients, and it has developed to become a successful business.
GIG: Greek IVF clinics in particular are becoming increasingly popular on the world stage. What is it that makes Greek IVF clinics a competitive choice?
Pantos: Greece offers some unique advantages by comparison with other countries in terms of medical services. It has a unique climate and the islands are a tourist destination. At the same time, there’s a lot of history within Greece, and it’s very price-competitive in comparison to other countries like the United States. In fact, IVF is only a fifth of the cost here. Greece has very relaxed legislation, which offers and allows all IVF practices to be performed in the country such as egg donation, surrogacy, the freezing of eggs, and fertility treatments for single women. And as such it has an advantage in comparison to countries like Germany, for example, where egg donation is not allowed.
As Greece is part of the European Union, there are many couples who are easily travelling across borders to Greece from countries like Germany, Italy, and England. The strategy is not only to increase awareness but to also build trust in the medical services we provide here. I think another part of the strategy should entail the Ministry of Health entering into agreements with the ministries of other countries to promote the services provided by the public sector.
In comparison to other European countries, Greece is now appealing for IVF services because people realise the excellent medical services that we offer. The other thing that we are doing here is personalising treatments. Other countries have strict protocols. However, in Greece we try to tailor, change, and perform new methods and treatments to find the best way through what, at times, can be a labyrinth – treating our infertile patients so that they can bring a new life into the world as easily and as affordably as possible.
GIG: There have been significant investments over the past few years in Greece’s healthcare sector from foreign funds. Do you see this trend continuing? Why should a foreign investor consider the IVF segment of the healthcare sector in Greece?
Pantos: Greece is in a unique position. It is located in Southern Europe, close to the Middle East, and what we are now doing is opening a new IVF centre on the island of Crete, which is known as a tourist destination. It will be comprised of Greek and Israeli doctors, and we’re also going to have Palestinian biologists. So, people who are engaged in conflict in their home countries are going to come to Greece to serve infertile couples. In this way, we’re going to bring infertile couples from the Middle East to Greece (to Crete in particular) to be treated by doctors and embryologists whom they can trust, in an affordable and very successful manner. People who want to invest in Greece can invest in establishing medical institutions on islands like Crete, for example, and help couples from difficult regions like Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, where many IVF procedures such as egg donation are not allowed.
For example, we now have partnerships with China to develop traditional Chinese medical centres in Greece, while we are also developing IVF centres in their country through a contract that we have signed with Anhui University. China respects Greece, even though we are only half the size of a Chinese city.