Health & Safety in Southern Africa
Travel safe and keep aware
Health and safety is a big issue in Southern Africa and we hope to help you with information. We suggest you check out the travel insurance recommendations for SA.
When you apply for your visa you will need a letter of clearance from your doctor, this will often be a chest x-ray to confirm that you do not have TB. Please also check that you have prescriptions for any long term ailment and also check that these medicines are available in the country you will be in. There are often alternatives so make sure your doctor specifies them. It is often unwise to travel with more than a months medication as airports are strict on bringing in medication.
We recommend you buy a small medical kit when you get to South Africa. This should include bandages, plasters, antiseptic creams and medical gloves. It is also wise to get water purification tablets if you are traveling in rural areas. Water is safe to drink in almost all South African towns and cities but rural areas often only have rain water or river water.
There are two different views on malaria medication, the first is that you should carry the cure and the second is that you take preventative measures.
The tablets that cure malaria are very inexpensive and are available at most pharmacies. These are up to date and are a better option if you prefer not to deal with the side effects of preventative medication. You will need to make sure you take them as soon as symptoms are detected. You will need to get to hospital as soon as possible to get a test and make sure the treatment worked.
Taking preventative medication is the preferred choice. Most tablets you will need to start taking about a month before you enter a malaria area. Some tablets can have bad side effects and this can often be irritating while traveling. The most common side effect is bad dreams and problems with sleeping. Please also remember that some medications are not up to date and can hide malaria and it can reoccur a month or two after you have left a malaria zone. This is not common but should be remembered.
HIV/Aids is prevalent in Southern Africa and it is best to be informed and protect yourself. When having sex always use a condom and avoid having oral sex. If you are treating wounds always use medical gloves. Do not share razors, needles or anything else that has drawn blood or been exposed to blood. There is allot of information available so make sure you are informed and aware. South Africa provides free condoms in most public paces but it is safer to use a recognised brand.
Other things to watch for
Ticks are common in Southern Africa and some of them carry Tick Bite Fever, if you start getting flu symptoms and have found a tick on you please go directly to a doctor or hospital. Treatment a simple course of antibiotics and is normally fairly inexpensive
Water born diseases and infections are common in Southern Africa so please check with locals before swimming in rivers or dams or drinking river water. This is mostly common in rural areas.
Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics
South Africa has two types of hospitals, government and private. If you have medical insurance it is best to use a private hospital. If are not covered you can use a public hospital or clinic. Medication and treatment are normally free or there might be a small admin fee in government hospitals and clinics. HIV/Aids tests are free in most government institutions. Doctors are are normally operate in private practices and medical insurance is advised. South Africa has a good health system but as you travel more in Southern Africa you will need to check where the closest hospital or doctor is as it can often be a few hours drive.
Southern Africa is said to be a dangerous area to travel by most statistics. This is true for the most part but you need to take into account the focus of crime as it often doesn't affect tourists that much. You should be aware of your surrounding at all times and ask locals where to go and which places are considered unsafe. Tourists often forget that they are not in their own surrounding and take unnecessary risks. Do not carry expensive equipment like digital cameras visibly. Make sure your passport is safe and not in your backpack when walking around public places. Try and keep a backup credit card and cash at the place you are staying. Be careful when at ATM's and do not accept help from strangers. It is always best to go into the bank if there is one. When taking taxis make sure they are registered with an organisation.
Airports - The most common place to get in trouble is when you are leaving an airport as you are often distracted and tired. Make sure you keep your bags with you and only accept help is the person is from an airport company. Never take cabs that have been recommended by people standing outside the airport terminal. They will often charge too much or not take you to the correct destination.
When traveling within South Africa make sure you have a map and avoid traveling in the dark. It is best to be a member of the AA (breakdown backup) if you are using your own car or a borrowed car. If you have a rental car make sure you have their number with you.
You can get a South Africa sim card for your cell phone for about R5, if your phone is locked you can get it unlocked for about R200. It is always wise to keep a cell phone with you while traveling.
Lastly do your research on the country you will be volunteering in. Ask local advice from a trusted person and be aware of your surroundings.