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Pre-Trip Health

A good travel guide for your destination will give an outline of the health-related advice. Some will be obvious (avoid sexual contact), but some may be news to you (don't swim in stagnant rivers in Africa - the bilharzia parasite).

There are also many Web-based sources for medical information such as TravelHealth, The International Travel Healthline, and The Travel Doctor.

Another source of information is The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT). Access to their information requires membership, but there is no charge for joining (although a donation is requested).

This page lists some other health issues to consider before your trip.

Immunizations

Some serious diseases that are rare in your home country are common in developing countries.

The immunization requirement of developing countries are a poor indicator of what immunizations you need. Many countries are reluctant to require immunizations for travelers coming from developed countries, because of the adverse effect on tourism. However, they may require a particular immunization for travelers who stop en-route in a developing country where the disease is endemic.

The first step is to check the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be aware of the local diseases and how to avoid them. Then find the best source of immunization information and service within your own country. Any health care professional should know the best source for this service.

There are risks and benefits associated with all immunization techniques. No vaccine is completely effective, and no vaccine is completely safe. Many health care professionals no longer prescribe vaccines — their policy is to inform you of the risks and benefits of a particular vaccine and let you decide what course of action to take.

Most vaccines take a week or two to produce a reasonable level of protection. Some take a month after the last immunization of a series (such as Hepatitis B) for full protection.

Keep good records of the immunizations you have taken! Some are good for extended periods, and some are considered to be effective for life if you take a booster at the correct time.

Insurance

You will need to check the coverage provided by your own insurance policies, as well as those that may be provided by the field organization overseeing your project. You may also wish to purchase additional coverage.

For all policies, consider these aspects:

Medical Emergency and MedEvac Coverage for medical emergencies and evacuation is probably the most important consideration. While other forms of insurance cover or reimburse your monetary expenses, a MedEvac policy gives you access to services that might be critical to your health. Rather than an insurance policy, they are often available in the form of a membership in a MedEvac program.

Medical Expenses What are the coverage limits in case of accident or illness? What are the deductibles and exclusions? Are you covered outside your home country?

Accident Insurance Is there a policy for loss of life or limb(s)?

Luggage Many homeowner policies have provisions for loss of luggage, and many travel agents provide this as a service.

Duration When are you covered? If you plan to travel before and/or after your project, check your coverage under any policy provided by the field organization.

Claims What is the claims procedure, and what documentation is required to make a claim?

If you decide that you need additional insurance, here are some links to vendors that specialize in international services:

Disabilities

If you have a disability of any kind, you may have concerns about undertaking an international project.

An excellent resource is the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE). They connect people with other disabled individuals who have studied or volunteered abroad. They also provide resources for learning about accessibility and disability services in other countries and assist people with planning and preparing for an overseas project, regardless of the organization that is overseeing the project.

Medical Supplies to Take Abroad

Most routine medical problems can be handled by over-the-counter remedies. It is unlikely that you will be able to locate your familiar brands easily when you need them, so traveling “armed” is the best approach.

Our medical kit includes Band-aids® in lots of sizes, individually sealed disinfectant alcohol pads, Neosporin® anti-bacterial cream, cortisone cream, Aspirin® (or Tylenol® or Advil®), cold medication, mosquito repellent (with DEET®), Pepto-Bismol® tablets, Imodium®, and any prescription medications we currently use.

Some of your medications may be restricted by customs on entry to the country. Which medications are considered over-the-counter and which require a prescription vary from country to country. Take a copy of the prescription for each of your prescription medications, and consider getting a doctor's letter for all other medications which might not be considered over-the-counter.

Women's feminine protection products (tampons, sanitary napkins) are generally available in major cities in developing countries, but they may not have your brand or size. They are most likely to be found in pharmacies rather than on supermarket shelves. However, to be on the safe side, it is always a good idea to bring a few days supply.

Depending on your destination and project, you may want to consider taking emergency medical supplies. Sanitary conditions in many medical facilities are questionable, so some people bring syringes, surgical disinfectant, sterile gauze, and sutures. However, having these available when you need them may require that you carry them with you at all times — a real hassle. Some people leave their medical supplies with a local hospital before they depart and get fresh supplies for each trip.

Some people take along a strong broad-spectrum antibiotic, in case of serious unidentified illness. However, don't take these medications lightly. If the antibiotic does not work on the illness you have, you may complicate your condition or make yourself sicker. Also, taking less than the full regiment of the medication can be dangerous — it promotes drug-resistant strains of the disease. Our doctor advised us to take these only if we intend to cut our trip short, get on a plane and return home.

An extensive site for medical supplies and general travel items is Travel Medicine.

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