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Wednesday, 01 July 2015

When you go to Africa: Preparing for the Trip of a Lifetime - Page 2

Written by Philip Perry
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Whether your interest is tourism, development and aid projects, missionary work, business, a college study-abroad program or something else, there are challenges and difficulties specific to traveling in this region. Though lots of Europeans, North Americans and Australians travel to Africa for a variety of reasons, the vast majority of those whom I’ve talked with do not make the specific preparations necessary to be safeguarded and often run into trouble. They endure theft, hardship, disease, violence, even death. Careful preparation is essential for a successful journey. Yet few resources exist. In light of that, here are the things you should do before going and when visiting sub-Saharan Africa to ensure you have the best time, while artfully mitigating any possible issues that may inhibit your experience.

One of the first things to do is take stock of your medical situation. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) will tell you what vaccines are necessary. You can visit their website here: You can also visit the World Health Organization’s website: Go to the countries section and select the place or places you are traveling to. According to the CDC the vaccines you will need for traveling to the region are measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), hepatitis A and B, and polio and tuberculosis (TB) as well. These are normal vaccinations most people should have anyway. If you come from a country where yellow fever is present, they will ask you for your yellow fever card upon entering most countries. Since we don’t have it in the United States, I didn’t get a yellow fever card. On my most recent trip I was asked for it upon arrival at the airport. However, the health official didn’t detain me, he let me go. Just before leaving however he asked me to buy him a Coke. I simply told him my friends were waiting for me and moved on. I don’t know if he was kidding or not. But it goes to show that you also need to deftly and politely maneuver around situations in this region you would not normally find in the West. 

Malawi Pics 080

Some people get vaccinated for rabies. This is only necessary when spending time in the rural areas. Dogs run freely in Africa and many an African has laughed and scratched his head wondering why on earth Westerns bring their dogs into the house. Some people get vaccinated against typhoid. This is a water-borne disease. It’s usually suggested that one drink bottled water produced by a reputable company and that the seal of said bottle isn’t broken. It doesn’t hurt to get extra vaccinations, however, and generally most health insurance plans cover the cost entirely.  There are those who get a flu shot due to the fact that the flu and early stages of malaria have similar symptoms: fever, headache, muscle and joint pain and so on. This is to distinguish one from another, especially if you develop symptoms when you first return home. A flu shot could make things more clear cut for your healthcare provider in this instance. If you do get sick once you get home, let your physician know about your travels. 

Now in terms of a malaria prophylactic, anyone spending any time in a country that is prone to malaria, and that is most in this region, should be prescribed one my their doctor. The most common are Lariam, doxycycline and Malarone. Lariam has been found ineffective in certain rural villages in Malawi. A new version of the parasite is resistant to this drug. Furthermore, one side effect is experiencing vivid nightmares. So it is not recommended. If your doctor prescribes Lariam let him or her know about your concern. Doxycycline and Malarone are both fine alternatives, usually taken one to two times per day. You must start taking your prophylactic two days before arriving in Africa and for one week after. Some people say Malarone has fewer side effects. Talk to your doctor to see which one is best for you. I’ve always taken doxycycline. It’s a powerful antibiotic. It makes me just a little loopy, as if I’ve had one drink on an empty stomach and am not quite so sharp. It also says to take it one or two hours after consuming a meal. However, I found that when I took it this way I would have a tremendous stomach ache. I started taking it just after breakfast and dinner and felt fine. 

One important thing to remember when taking a prophylactic, it does not prevent malaria. It merely staves it off so that you can get to a hospital. If you do start feeling flu like symptoms such as a fever, headache, and joint and muscle pain get a hospital right away. Depending on the country you are in and the state of development of its healthcare system, you may need to be airlifted to a well equipped hospital should you get malaria or some other serious disease and their system is inadequate to treat you properly. It’s important to note that I lived at a project in a rural village for three months and never caught malaria. I did see one girl at the project I was working at contract the disease. She was working in a pre-school in a rural village. Though the tour book said that if you catch malaria, you should be airlifted to a South African hospital, she was treated at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in the city of Blantyre. After a few days of receiving antibiotics intravenously, she was released and was in perfect health. It’s important to note however that malaria may never leave the body and flare ups can occur years after.

If you are experiencing malaria symptoms while in Africa, don’t wait. Let someone know and get to a hospital immediately. The longer you wait the worse it gets. I’ve heard that the headache you develop makes you want to cut your own head off. One girl died at the project I was working at because she contracted malaria but didn’t do anything about it. The project staff kept trying to get her to go to the hospital. She insisted she was fine. And when they finally got her there, it was too late. 

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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 July 2015

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