Mama Africa

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Preparing a trip to Africa: health matters

International Certificate of Vaccination against Yellow Fever approved by the World Health Organization

International Certificate of Vaccination against Yellow Fever approved by the World Health Organization

If you’re planning on taking an international trip on your own and with a limited budget, you’re going to have to do lots of research. Visas, special entry requirements depending on the country, accommodation, transportation, itineraries, attractions, insurance, social customs, cultural differences, security information, exchange rates, a little vocabulary, well… a little bit of everything.

To travel to Sub-Saharan Africa you must take into account a very important detail: health, and that is what this post is going to be about.


The yellow fever vaccine is the most important, and it is mandatory for some countries. It is fairly easy to get, you only need one shot that will protect you for a span of 10 years and has a 99% effectiveness. Remember to get it 30 days before your trip and to ask your doctor for an International Certificate of Vaccination against Yellow Fever approved by the World Health Organization. Even though it sounds complicated, it is only a small yellow book with the date and place you got the vaccine, valid in all the world.

Two other vaccines recommended for traveling to this area are Hepatitis A and Typhoid; both diseases transmitted mainly by food poisoning. The vaccination against Hepatitis A starts to be effective 2 to 4 weeks after getting the shot, so plan it ahead. It is recommended to get another shot in the future for long-term protection. The vaccine against Typhoid has a not-so-high effectiveness, but it’s better to get it just in case. This vaccination should be applied at least 2 weeks before traveling and you should get another shot 2 years later for further protection in case you are visiting risk zones.

There are other vaccinations that some travelers decide to get, including the ones against Hepatitis B, Meningitis and Rabies. Even though the risk of getting these diseases is very low, your chances of catching one of them may increase depending on the activities you will do and the places you will visit.



This disease is a big problem in many countries of Africa, and every year causes the death of millions of people, especially children. It is transmitted by a certain type of mosquito capable of porting the parasite. Don’t worry, it is a preventable disease and if you take all the necessary precautions you don’t need to worry about it. The first thing to do is to try to avoid mosquito bites. If you are in an area with abundant mosquitoes (lush vegetation or water bodies) it is very important to use insect repellent, and to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and socks (avoiding dark colors because mosquitoes are attracted to them). In other areas you can wear short sleeve shirts and shorts, but always remember to put on some insect repellent. When you go to sleep it is advisable to wear clothing that covers all your body and to hang a mosquito net over your bed. The time when mosquitoes are more active is during dawn and sunset, so you should avoid being outdoors at that time; if it is not possible, take all the precautions to avoid bites. The other way to prevent malaria, and done by most visitors to Africa, is to take medication. These drugs help prevent the disease, and in case of catching it, help fighting it. The best thing you can do is to visit a doctor at a travel clinic, explain to him the places you will visit and duration of travel, and ask him which pill is best suited for you. The recommended medicines for the three countries that we will visit are: doxycycline, atovaquone/proguanil and mefloquine. After reading the side effects of each of them and the cost of each pill and the availability of them, we decided to take doxyciline. We started to take it two days before traveling to the risk area, we will take it all the length of the time we’ll be there and 28 days after leaving the area. It is important to take it every day, with no interruption, and at the same time.

Travel health kit

It’s very important to pack a personal medical kit for any kind a trip, it doesn’t have to be small or too big, just pack essentials. Because medical services in Africa are a little limited, especially in the province, and since we’re going to be here for a long time, we have a huge kit! Among other things, we brought a couple of antibiotics, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, diarrhea pills, expectorants and eye drops. If you suffer any kind of chronic disease, like me who has asthma, remember to take enough medication for a long trip. I like to divide my medical kit in two parts; in my hand luggage I carry all the anti-malaria pills, antibiotics (because some of them aren’t sold over the counter in certain countries), painkillers and other things that are difficult to get without a prescription. The rest are kept inside the checked baggage, such as balms, antiseptics and all the others that aren’t needed during an emergency.

A small part of our huge medical kit

A small part of our huge medical kit

Travel insurance

There are many people that no matter where they’re travelling to or for how long, they always decide to acquire travel insurance. Others, such as ourselves, are a little more adventurous and trust their luck. The decision is yours. What I can recommend is to quote at several companies, read the small print the contracts, and buy the insurance from your country of origin. Getting insurance while you’re travelling is possible, but your options are rather limited and the price will probably shoot up. There are a couple of options that you can buy on the internet in a couple of minutes and others that ask you to go personally to an office to sign contracts. Depending on the trip that you’re undergoing and the activities that you’ll carry out, you can choose this or that policy.

Written by Stephany

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This entry was posted on July 17, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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