Beauty Boom Beirut

Lebanon lender expands from cosmetic surgery to fertility

Beirut – Two years after it decided to provide loans to those seeking plastic surgery, a Lebanese bank is expanding into loans for fertility treatment.

The loan program, a first anywhere, has attracted a fair amount of attention, even though the question of infertility has long been a social taboo in Lebanon and across the Middle East.

“We have received, since the billboards were hanged across Beirut in mid August, between 200-250 calls per day from interested customers,” said Mahir Mezher, head of marketing and the campaign’s creator at Lebanon’s First National Bank (FNB).

The bank is not unfamiliar with nontraditional loans. In 2006, it offered loans for plastic surgery procedures using the slogan “Beauty is no longer a luxury.”

The new loan is advertised with slogans saying that “Fertility is no longer a problem.” It allows people with regular employment to take out up to 7,000 dollars for two to three in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments, to be repaid over three years.

“The loan itself is designed to be much more flexible than the personal loan. First, there is a confidentiality guarantee, which means that clients need not reveal their identity to the bank, but work through their doctors,” said Mezher.

Also, unlike personal loans, no guarantee is needed for fertility loans of up to 3,000 dollars. Lastly, it is a “revolving loan,” which means that one can continue to take out loans even during the repayment period, as long as the 7,000-dollar limit has not been reached, he added.

According to a gynecologist at the American University Hospital in Beirut, IVF is becoming a common procedure in Lebanon, despite the taboo nature of infertility problems.

“There are 20 infertility centers in Lebanon. The American University Hospital (AUH) charges around $2,500 per IVF and performs 60-100 trials per month,” Mezher said.

The loan can also finance stem cell preservation, which, according to Mezher, costs between 2,600 and 2,800 dollars.

The procedure consists of extracting umbilical cord blood when the baby is born. The blood is then flown to Britain, where it is kept in a sterilized cold storage unit for 25 years.

Stem cells can be prompted to transform into any type of cell, be it heart cells or brain cells, which make them effective in treating cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other maladies.

Even close family, with their strong compatibility, could benefit from these stem cells.

“Stem cells will be the hot subject for the next 50 years,” predicted Mezher, who hopes that FNB will be remembered for its foresight.

But Mezher expected that the bank’s new initiative will be criticized, much like its plastic surgery initiative, which drew complaints from religious figures, who said it commercialized women’s bodies.

“Our aim in the first loan was to help people and tell them you can be beautiful with our help. And now in this fertility loan we are helping to lighten people’s lives,” Mezher added. (dpa)

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