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Travelers should have a plan to get to medical care when in a country that lacks basic health infrastructure.

Africa Safari-1Ahead of a big trip, travelers typically run through a checklist that includes researching the best airline tickets, required visas, and hotel and rental car options. What is often missing from that list is information about medical facilities at their destinations. Travelers spend time planning their trip and plotting their desired experiences—everything from organized tours to water or winter sports—but what happens if they are injured or even fall ill in a foreign location? All too often, this is only a consideration for travelers when they are in urgent need of medical care.

As travelers begin to check once-in-a-lifetime trips off their bucket lists again, some are finding out that just because a destination is popular does not mean that it has medical infrastructure capable of supporting travelers in the event of an injury or illness. It is critical, therefore, that travelers have a plan in place to ensure they are able to access medical care—or be evacuated to a suitable hospital—if they fall sick or are injured while traveling in a foreign country. 

...just because a destination is popular does not mean that it has medical infrastructure capable of supporting travelers in the event of an injury or illness.


Medical Care Is Inconsistent Across Popular Destinations

Identifying good quality treatment is a challenge in an unfamiliar city; it is an even bigger challenge if the traveler is in a remote area, as is typically the case during exotic vacations. From ecotourism in the Dominican Republic; to safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda; to the beaches of Bali, these destinations are regularly featured on lists of travel hot spots. While all of these destinations have the ingredients for a memorable trip, the quality of medical care available at each varies, prompting the U.S. State Department to caution travelers visiting certain parts of the world. For example:

  • In the Bahamas, the State Department says: “Medical care is available on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands. However, serious illnesses or injuries might not be treatable locally. Serious health problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars in up-front costs. Outer islands have only small clinics, and medical care is limited.”
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  • In Jamaica, “Quality medical care is limited in Jamaica and public health facilities do not meet U.S. standards. Private facilities require large up-front payments even in emergencies.”
  • In the Dominican Republic, “Public medical clinics lack basic resources and supplies.”
  • In Tanzania, the State Department “strongly” recommends supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation.
  • In Rwanda, ambulance services are “not widely available and training and availability of emergency responders may be below U.S. standards; not equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment; and not staffed with trained paramedics and often have little or no medical equipment.” In fact, injured or seriously ill travelers in Rwanda, “may prefer to take a taxi or private vehicle to the nearest major hospital rather than wait for an ambulance,” the State Department advises.
  • In Kenya, a popular destination for safari thrill seekers, the State Department says “appropriate medical treatment is typically available only in or near the major cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. First responders generally are unable to access areas outside of major cities and to provide urgent medical treatment.” In such instances, medical evacuation to the nearest viable hospital or even back home may be the only option for a sick or injured traveler.
  • In Indonesia, the State Department strongly recommends travelers get “supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation, which can exceed $100,000 per person.”
  • In Thailand, ambulance services are “not present throughout the country or are unreliable in most areas except for Bangkok and other major cities” and “injured or seriously ill travelers may prefer to take a taxi or private vehicle to the nearest major hospital rather than wait for an ambulance.”

The list goes on.


Preparing for Travel

 

"Given these warnings and the uncertainty of pandemic travel, travelers preparing for a foreign trip need to ask themselves the question: In case of a medical emergency, would I want to risk surgery or an extended stay in a foreign hospital?" says Dr. Shelly Weisenfeld, Global Guardian Medical Director. If traveling to one of the popular destinations listed above, the answer to that question should be no. In fact, most travelers, regardless of the medical facilities available in the country in which they are traveling, would prefer to receive treatment in the familiar comfort of their home country.

"Given these warnings and the uncertainty of pandemic travel, travelers preparing for a foreign trip need to ask themselves the question: In case of a medical emergency, would I want to risk surgery or an extended stay in a foreign hospital?"

"It is unrealistic for Western travelers to expect to find the same level of care that they have in their home countries while traveling in another part of the world, especially in a developing or underdeveloped country. The pandemic has added further strain to health care services around the world, pushing some countries past breaking point," adds Dr. Weisenfeld.

Before setting out on their journeys, travelers should:

  • Review their insurance policies to determine what is covered if they fall sick or are injured while in a foreign country and ensure that they have appropriate coverage.
  • Carry translated copies of important medical records and prescriptions if traveling in a country where a different language is spoken.
  • Carry an adequate amount of local currency since most hospitals require that patients, particularly foreigners, make point-of-service payments.
  • Be well informed about the medical care and facilities available at their destination by consulting the State Department’s website as well as reputable travel blogs.

Global Guardian’s Air Ambulance Service

Global Guardian’s Air Ambulance service offers clients world-class evacuation services to a medical facility of their choice. On a trip to Bali, a member on a sightseeing visit tripped and broke her hip. Uneasy about the inadequate medical care available locally, she asked to be evacuated to the United States. Global Guardian’s Air Ambulance transported the injured woman to a hospital in Rochester, Minnesota —a 26-and-a-half-hour trip—saving her $125,000 in medical evacuation fees. The incident highlights why it is important that travelers have the option of medical evacuation, especially when traveling in a foreign location.

A significant investment of time and money often goes into preparing for travel. To ensure the best possible outcome of their trip, a traveler should also prepare for the unexpected. Planning for a medical emergency, such as an illness or an injury, and being aware of the state of medical facilities at their destination should be at the top of their travel checklists.


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