Tips on How to Stay Healthy While Travelling in Africa
When it comes to health and travel in Africa, a saying better to prevent than cure would be in place. Years of travel in Africa taught us some lessons and below you can find (hopefully) useful tricks and tips on how to stay healthy while travelling in Africa.
Familiarize Yourself With Common African Diseases
Know your enemy – its good to make some research on symptoms on most common diseases in African country you plan to visit. In case you don’t feel well, you will be able to recognise symptoms sooner. Do some research on most common diseases in African country planned to travel. Where ever your next trip to Africa might be, knowing symptoms of typhoid fever, amoebic dysentery and Malaria would be good idea.
Recognising symptoms in early stage can save you lots of trouble. When I got sick with typhoid fever, I wasn’t aware of symptoms, and when I got the mild skin rash typical for typhoid fever I thought I was bitten by something. I could start treatment two months earlier than I actually did.
Same goes with malaria, recognising a typical headache which is one of early symptoms is essential. And having an early blood test can be crucial.
Zika virus had its reputation mostly in the news from Central and South America, but there is also a risk in central and Eastern Africa countries including Kenya and Tanzania.
Make a Stock of Local Medicine
The good thing about Africa is, that medical drugs are available in pharmacies straight from the counter, without prescription unlike in Western World. And much cheaper! Bring the basics with you, the rest is available locally.
Some drugs sold outside Africa are just don’t have same effect. If you are travelling to Egypt, (this is a tip from an expat who lived there 20 years) go to local pharmacy and buy Antinal and Streptoquin pills. Those are local anti diarrhoea pills specially efficient for bacterias found in Egypt.
If planning long term travel to Africa and will be living in Malarial rural areas, it is good to buy locally Coartem pills, known for Malaria treatment (at least in East Africa). The problem in rural areas sometimes is, the clinics can make blood tests, but are not stocked with medicine.
Have been cases when sick people with Malaria had to travel 8 hours or more to the nearest city to buy the pills.
Get a Travel Health Insurance
You never know when you will need it!Despite all precautions, life is unpredictable and you never know when you will have to opt for medical services in hospitals or private clinics in Africa. With this in mind and the fact that good, quality service in Africa is found in international clinics or private hospitals, insurance can save you lot of money.
So, dont be stingy and a arrange and buy suitable travel health insurance no matter how long you travel. Same goes for future long term workers and volunteers in Africa, who can buy specific expat health insurance plans.
Disinfection Gel and Baby Wipes Should be Your Best Friends!
Along with washing hands. The best prevention you can do while travelling in Africa, is stock in disinfection gel or disinfection wipes. In case there is no option to wash hands, these are life saviours. Very handy on safaris, and long bus rides. Gels come in travel sized packaging, so you can always have it in your daypack, purse, bag…
Don’t Drink Tap Water, Ever! Use Bottled Water Only and Make Sure it is Not Fake!
Make sure to use bottled water at all times. Even if locals drink tap water. Also make sure to check the bottle is sealed and when opens you should hear the seal break. This is especially useful tip, when buying bottled water from street vendors in Africa. Unfortunately some vendors want to save the money and refill bottles with tap water.
The best way to stay hydrated during trip to Africa is drinking lots of water. Beer and soda drinks will not hydrate you properly. Great natural source of electrolytes is coconut water. Has same effect as rehydration powder.
In case you don’t have a pharmaceutical rehydration powder, coconut water is great natural alternative, known for being rich with electrolytes. You don’t need to be sick to drink coconut water. In hot Africa you are naturally sweating more and loosing electrolytes. Coconut water is great when having high fever that makes you dehydrated.
FOOD – Peel it Cook it Boil it or Forget It
If you cook and prep food by yourself in Africa always-wash vegetables and fruits with chilled water that was previously well boiled. To kill amoeba and other parasites, soak the vegetables into white vinegar for few minutes, it will not ruin the taste at all. A general rule for eating in Africa is – try to avoid eating salads. The safest way is to eat food that was thermally processed.
Use Sunscreen With High Protection Factor
Sun in Africa is strong. Even on a cloudy day you can get sunburns, especially in countries near equator. If using Doxycycline medicine as anti malaria prevention, be aware of the fact that has been known to increase susceptibility to sunburn, so is use of some antibiotics, for example antibiotics containing ciprofloxacin used for treatment of typhoid fever – known as Cyprobay, Ciprinol and other generics.
Don’t Swim in Still Waters
Still waters in Africa could be infested with parasites like bilharzia or amoeba. Victoria Lake, Lake Malawi, other lukewarm still waters.
Keep Your Feet Happy
If your feet are happy, the rest of your body will be too! Make sure you have extra shoes along on your trip to Africa, well fitting shoes for the airport as well as comfortable shoes for the rest of the trip. Give your feet time to breathe when you are able, slip your shoes off and do some simple stretches, point and flex your feet, circle your feet to loosen the ankles.
If your feet get swollen from air travel or walking, rub a couple drops of peppermint essential oil on the soles to alleviate inflammation. If on the sandy beach, rub the feet with sand, its natural peeling.
Those who travel in rural areas in sub saharan climates, should take extra care to feet when wearing flip flops. Wash feet every time with little brush and water in order to avoid jiggers.
Jiggers are type of flea that lives in sand and soil. Its common in rural areas of Sub Saharan Africa (Kenya and Uganda mostly) jiggers are not chiggers!
Few Remedies You Can Easily Pack With You
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Whenever I travel to Africa I pack a small dose of Tea tree oil with me. Tea tree oil is natural antiseptic and inhibits a broad spectrum of bacteria and fungi. Kills fungus, helps to fight herpes on the lips. It is also used topically as a local antiseptic for cuts and abrasions, for burns, insect bites and stings, boils, toothache, infections of the mouth and nose as well as sore throat.
In addition, Tea Tree oil turned out to be great insect repellant if you mix it with the lotion, preferably without perfume. There are many brands on the market, my favourite and the best in quality is Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Oil. Or you can make your own repellant, I make my own balm, shea butter, Tea Tree Essential oil, Lavender Essential Oil and a drop of Lemon or Lemongrass Essential oil. if you are making DYI balm, make sure you are sparingly using citrus oils, as they can cause phototoxic reaction when skin exposed to sun.
Wild Oregano Essential Oil
Wild oregano essential oil is very similar to tea tree, but I like it for the benefits it does to my feet. I never use any make up when I travel, but nail polish on my toes is a must. As I mostly wear flip flops 24/7, feet get dusty, as well nails get tired of nail polish.
Here comes in Oregano oil foot bath. Put one, max two drops mixed with a drop of soap (very aggressive oil, one drop only otherwise you will suffer burns) to at least one litre of warm water and 15 minutes later, feet are rejuvenated, toe nails are much brighter and feet are relaxed and disinfected.
Since this essential oil is very aggressive, make sure to test your skin and wait 24 hours before using it, if you never used it before.
Also known as Tiger balm. Whenever not really necessary I try to avoid using pills. China balm is great for fighting headache, sinusitis stuffy nose, tired muscles and joint pain. Sniffing the balm opens stuffy nose and if you have headache put some balm on the temple area. Just make sure it doesn’t come into your eyes !
Superfood – Algae Pills
Algae pills take little space in backpack and are great natural food supplement. Usually when we travel, our eating habits can be unstable or we eat less healthy food than at home. Chlorella pills are rich with iron, simple proteins and boost immune system and prevent anemia. Similar properties offers Spirulina.
B Vitamin Complex Pills
Long time ago I read somewhere on the internet, taking B vitamin complex pills prevent from mosquito bites. Some say it’s a pure myth, but it works with me. I start using pills three weeks before travelling to Africa and then one pill per day on my trip. So far so good. Also noticed, when using B vitamin complex pills, although very bright skin am no longer suffering sunburns and get nice sun tan much more quickly.
Natural Remedies When Travel Medicine Kit is Not Enough
It happens sometime, despite well stocked travel aid kit, we still don’t have what we need and pharmacy could be far away. Below are some good natural remedies for first aid.
Aloe Vera Plant for Sunburns from African Sun
Aloe vera is your best friend when it comes to sun burn and if you don’t have a soothing lotion, just find the plant, use the gel in aloe leaves and put it on the skin. It will have same if not better effect than soothing lotions bought in store.
Ginger in Any Form for Stomach Ache and Nausea
Ginger root, ginger tea, ginger spice powder, anything goes.
Ginger tea’s ability to fight nausea, and drinking ginger tea may help settle your stomach when you feel ill. If there is no tea, you can also use the spice powder for cooking, just be modest with dosage. If you have fresh root, chew a small piece of ginger, don’t swallow. Helps the same effect. And don’t drink it in the evening, its known for stimulant.
Cinnamon Tea for Gastrointestinal Issues
Cinnamon tea comes handy when dealing with travel diarrhoea, bloating and nausea. In ancient times they used to cure dysentery with cinnamon tea by mixing cinnamon into warm milk.
Cabbage Leaves for Swelling and Bruises
Cabbage can be found anywhere. It contains both antibiotic and anti irritant properties. Cabbage leaves compressions are known to ease joint swellings, bruised swellings from falls and other problems like swollen bites. Take cabbage leave or two, soak them into hot water for a minute, then tap it with cooking hammer to make it softer.
Put layers of cabbage leaves on swelling area, and cover with bandage overnight. Most likely swellings will either entirely disappear or will get much smaller.
Pineapple for Travel Constipation
Some travellers suffer from travel constipation due to unfamiliar toilets, change of diet on the road and other reasons. Pineapple is great solution for travel constipation. If you have problem with constipation eat fresh pineapple for breakfast every day.
Effects don’t come overnight, but after few days consuming pineapple ( also could be fresh pineapple juice, but there are much more fibres when you eat the fruit) will naturally get your digestion going again.
This post is meant strictly for informational use only. You should always consult your doctor.