While Africa has an impressive selection of tropical diseases, it’s more likely you’ll get a bout of diarrhoea or a cold than a more exotic malady. Stay up to date with your vaccinations and take basic preventive measures, and you’ll be unlikely to succumb to any of the serious health hazards.
The World Health Organization (www.who.int/en/) recommends that all travellers be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, as well as for hepatitis B, regardless of their destination.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (www.cdc.gov), the following vaccinations are recommended for the region: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid, and boosters for tetanus, diphtheria and measles. While a yellow-fever vaccination certificate is not officially required to enter Zambia unless you are entering from a yellow-fever infected area, carrying one is advised, and is often requested.
Malaria is common in many parts of Zambia (including the cities), so taking anti-malarials is advisable; speak to your doctor about which one is most suitable for you. Always be sure to take precautions to avoid bites and apply insect repellent containing DEET, wear long trousers and sleeves in the evening and always use a mosquito net when sleeping.
Find out in advance whether your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or will reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures. Most doctors and clinics in the region expect upfront payment in cash.
It’s vital to ensure that your travel insurance will cover any emergency transport required to get you at least to Johannesburg (South Africa), or all the way home, by air and with a medical attendant if necessary.
If your policy requires you to pay first and claim later for medical treatment, be sure to keep all documentation. Some policies ask you to call back (reverse charges) to a centre in your home country where an immediate assessment of your problem is made. Since reverse-charge calls aren’t possible in many parts of the region, contact the insurance company before setting off to confirm how best to contact them in an emergency.
Don’t drink tap water unless it has been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected (such as with iodine tablets). Don’t drink from streams, rivers and lakes. It’s also best to avoid drinking from pumps and wells; some bring pure water to the surface, but the presence of animals can contaminate supplies. Bottled water is widely available, except in very remote areas, where you should carry a filter or purification tablets.
If you become seriously ill, seek treatment in Lusaka or in South Africa or return home. If you fall ill in an unfamiliar area, ask staff at a top-end hotel or resident expatriates where the best nearby medical facilities are. For Western standards, expect to pay Western prices. In an emergency, contact your embassy.
Well-stocked pharmacies are found in Lusaka and some other major towns. These will invariably carry chloroquine and sometimes Fansidar (both for malaria) and other basics, though it’s best to bring whatever you think you may need from home. Always check the expiry date before buying medications, especially in smaller towns.
There is a high risk of contracting HIV from infected blood transfusions. The BloodCare Foundation (www.bloodcare.org.uk) is a useful source of safe, screened blood, which can be transported to any part of the world within 24 hours.