What do you have to take into account when traveling to Africa?
Some countries in Africa have mandatory vaccinations to be able to enter the country, and others just some that may be recommended (the latter you only have to get them if you want). All this information will be given to us at any International Vaccination Center . Going well in advance is highly recommended to plan the trip.
Most African countries have very basic health infrastructure, except for private health, which is very expensive. Regardless of the country of destination, it is highly recommended to have travel insurance . It is important that the insurance includes:
- High coverage of medical expenses.
- That covers all the costs of repatriation.
- That covers 100% of the displacement of a family member.
The number of vaccinations will depend on the country of destination. However, as a general rule, in order to enter most of the African countries, they require a yellow fever vaccination certificate. This vaccine is necessary for all travelers over one year of age, who reside in risk countries and/or who have been in transit at the airport of a risk country for at least 12 hours.
In countries such as Libya or Cameroon, they require the polio vaccination certificate, which is included in the usual vaccination schedule, so it is normally already in place.
Beyond the compulsory vaccines, there are a series of recommended vaccines : poliomyelitis, tetanus-diphtheria, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, cholera or meningococcal meningitis.
General health tips
The main health problems that we can find, apart from diseases transmitted by mosquitoes , are usually related to contaminated water and food. The so-called “traveler’s diarrhea” is the most common, affecting up to 80% of travelers.
To avoid it, a series of recommendations should be followed:
- Avoid eating raw foods or foods that have been at room temperature for long periods of time.
- If you eat fruits and vegetables, you always have to wash and peel them. If the skin is damaged, avoid eating it.
- Eat foods that have been fully cooked, preferably hot at the time we are going to eat them. Drinks or food cooked at more than 60ºC are safe.
- Avoid drinking water that is not bottled and never ask for ice or eat homemade ice cream or juice. If you do not have access to bottled water, you have to boil it, or make it drinkable with a specific product.
- Do not drink milk if it is not boiled or eat unpasteurized dairy products.
- Special attention deserves fish and shellfish that may contain poisonous biotoxins. Seek local advice before eating it.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before cooking or eating food or using hydroalcoholic gel.
- Teeth should be brushed with bottled water.
Recommendations according to the destination
In the African continent, as far as health risk is concerned, three zones must be differentiated:
The Mediterranean or Maghreb Basin
The preparation of food and even the act of eating is done with the hands, so hand hygiene is essential and there is a high risk of traveler’s diarrhea.
To avoid diarrhoea, it is advisable to eat freshly cooked, boiled or fried foods, drink packaged or boiled products, such as coffee or tea, and brush your teeth with bottled, boiled or disinfected water with purification tablets. Avoid street food, raw food, shellfish or fruit peeled by third parties, as well as ice cubes, dairy products, non-boiled, packaged or sealed beverages, or natural fruit juices. Vaccination is necessary for hepatitis A and typhoid fever.
The meningitic belt zone
It is the geographical area delimited widthwise, from west to east of the African continent between Senegal and Ethiopia, and from Sierra Leone to Kenya. In this area, apart from traveler’s diarrhoea, the risk of meningitis due to different strains of meningococcus is high, especially during the month of November to June (dry season). It is very important to be vaccinated against quadrivalent meningitis . There may also be a risk of malaria and yellow fever, with chemoprophylaxis and vaccination being recommended, respectively.
In sub-Saharan Africa, in addition to intestinal diseases, the main risk is that of diseases transmitted by insects, such as malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever.
Vaccination against yellow fever
African countries that require yellow fever vaccination for travelers from all countries are: Angola, Benin, Burkina-Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Togo. Once you arrive at the place of destination, or even sometimes to obtain the entry visa there, they will request it. The vaccine is effective 24 hours or 10 days after its administration , depending on whether it is a booster dose or the first time it is administered, and is valid for 10 years.. The International Vaccination Certificate is personal and non-transferable, and if it is lost, the traveler should go back to the center that issued it to obtain a duplicate.
There are other countries in sub-Saharan Africa or in the meningitis belt in which vaccination is not compulsory and there is no risk of yellow fever transmission, such as Botswana, Cape Verde, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
The recommendations in these areas may be modified depending on the itinerary, the reason for the trip and the traveler’s pre-existing illnesses, as well as due to the appearance of health alerts or epidemic outbreaks at the time of the trip. However, the professionals at the International Health Center receive updated information on a daily basis, so if you have any questions, it is recommended that you contact them.
What you should know…
- Most African countries have very basic health infrastructure, except for private health, which is very expensive. Regardless of the country of destination, it is highly recommended to have travel insurance.
- The main health problems that we can find, apart from diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, are usually related to contaminated water and food.
- The professionals at the International Health Center receive updated information on a daily basis, so if you have any questions when traveling to an African country, it is recommended that you contact them.