Medical matters on safari
Speak to your doctor before you travel. Get accurate and current advice on inoculation requirements and any recently recognised medical precautions that may be necessary.
Common medical concerns on safari include the following:
- Malaria: caused by a mosquito borne parasite, malaria is endemic in all of our main safari areas. East, southern and Central Africa. From experience we’ve found the worst time of year for malaria generally during the wet season. The incidence of malaria diminishes as the season gets drier and cooler but there is still a risk even at the end of the dry season before the new rains. The best precautions are physical barriers in the early evenings and at night (long trousers and sleeves, 30% plus deet-based repellents, mosquito nets). You need to watch for the symptoms for several weeks after your return home – it’s important to get treatment very quickly if you’ve contracted malaria. If you develop flu-like symptoms then get a quick and simple blood test without any delay to be on the safe side.
- Diarrhoea: a common problem when travelling in Africa. We’ve seen advice recommending that even salads should be washed in bottled mineral water?! That’s extreme, the reality is that food preparation and presentation in some of the remotest camps is as good as you’ll get in some of the best hotels in Europe and North America. Just be sensible about what you eat and drink, and bring suitable medication in case.
- Sunburn: The African sun even during our southern winter from May to July is fierce. Aside from the long term risks of skin cancer, a bad sunburn could spoil a safari. The greatest risk of serious sunburn is on canoe and walking safaris or when you’re trekking at altitude (Mt Kenya or Kilimanjaro). There’s no need to get extreme with precautions unless you’re particularly sensitive to the sun. Be sure to bring a hat, long sleeves, strong sun barrier that suits your skin type and sunglasses. On canoe safaris a towel or “kikoi” covering the legs is essential.
Medical services on the ground
Even the remotest camps are reasonably well geared to handle minor mishaps in terms of first aid practitioners, trauma kits etc. In the event of a serious accident, Johannesburg in South Africa is the only real option for immediate high care evacuation in Southern Africa. In East Africa a well established air evacuation service is available from Nairobi.
Ensure that you have adequate medical insurance – as a rule the remoter and less developed the destination, the more expensive the evacuation.
Some valuable sources for medical guidance
Fit for Travel: An excellent UK-based source of travel health information (used by our own doctor friends)
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention: Destination updates, reference materials, current news, special needs travel info, travelling with children, excellent checklist, hotline numbers in the USA
WHO – International Travel and Health: the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system with links to national travel and health websites.
US State Department: medical information for Americans travelling abroad, includes a very valuable listing of addresses of Med-Evac and Travel Insurance companies plus additional regional tips etc.