Traveling to far, unknown and exotic countries can often arise concerns regarding health issues. What if I get malaria? Cholera? Do the hospitals provide good patient care? How to find a dentist? What if a scorpion stings?
So let's face the truth:
Unfortunately, me and Maria have both been through (and survived!) many different tropical diseases during our travels in Ghana. These include e.g. multiple malaria infections, typhoid fever, dysentery, horribly infected wounds and countless food poisonings.
For the most part we have received good care; at least when the illness has not hit during a thunderstorm in a small, remote fishing village in the middle of the night.
We have made it to hospitals with a boat, motorbikes, taxis, and crutches. Sometimes there hasn’t been running water in the hospital and it had to be fetched (by me and my friends) from a well far away.
""And yes - I have been scared.
And whenever I have recovered,
I have learned to love and
appreciate life more and more."."
We have also come across all sorts of insects and animals; snakes in the kitchen and backyard, lizards in the pits, sharks caught in fishermen's nets, and scorpions in school offices. Yet these little friends haven't caused any harm, and in general such encounters with nature will rarely lead to injuries. Just respect the nature as it is.
In Ghana, you can find really skilled doctors, nurses, dentists, as well as many brand new clinics with well equipped high-tech laboratories, x-ray etc. Such healthcare services by private clinics can cost a lot, and usually the low-income groups, even the middle-class, cannot afford it.
Most locals use public healthcare services which, according to our own experience, are not very impressive; the service is often slow, queuing takes forever, facilities and equipment are not that up-to-date and so on.. However, here we are, still standing!
"Always remember that time is your worst enemy
with tropical diseases!
Seek treatment as early as possible! "
And remember to get a travel insurance before your trip!
Starting with vaccines
Taking vaccines for a journey to Ghana requires planning and consultation with healthcare professionals. Don't forget to check that your basic vaccines, like tetanus vaccine, are up to date too.
The most common diseases in Ghana include malaria, yellow fever, cholera, and typhoid fever. Talking about medication and vaccines, there’s multiple opinions out there, and as we are not doctors we advise you to contact your own clinic for any healthcare issues and questions! Everyone has different needs when it comes to health and we’re only providing some general info for safe travels in Ghana here.
International yellow fever certificate is required when applying for a visa to Ghana and again at arrival by Ghanaian healthcare authorities. Yellow fever is spread by mosquitoes and occurs normally in rural areas, in the bush, and savanna areas. According to WHO one yellow fever vaccination gives protection for life (2016), but Ghana is still among those countries that require boosters every 10 years. So make sure that there is up-to-date information in your yellow fever certificate when planning to travel. For maximum protection, remember to also minimize mosquitoes’ access to your skin.
Prevent these most common diseases
Malaria, malaria ... this treacherous tropical disease is transmitted by mosquitoes carrying plasmodium parasites and can be very dangerous if not treated properly. There’s various types of drugs for malaria prevention available and we recommend you to find the best option together with your doctor. Protecting yourself from mosquito bites is also an essential part of malaria prevention.
Mosquitoes are around from dusk till dawn. There are many ways to be protected from them, such as mosquito nets treated with permethrin, repellents for skin and room use (both options are available easily from any pharmacy and most street vendors in urban areas; try also citronella oil from boutiques selling local, natural beauty products!), and long-sleeved clothing.
Read here, how my friend Leeni fights against malaria in Ghana with bracelets made of recycled glass!
"After all, please do not ruin your trip
by panicking about mosquitoes. "
You can do your best by anticipating but you can not repel them all! However, if your legs look like this...
.. maybe you could've done something a bit differently ..?
Cholera is caused by bacteria that leads to strong diarrhea. The cause of typhoid fever is salmonella typhi-bacteria. Typhoid fever and cholera are common in areas with poor hygiene, and you can easily get an infection for example from toilet facilities and contaminated water or food. There are oral vaccines to prevent both of these diseases.
In Ghana, cholera epidemics emerge every year killing locals who cannot afford decent healthcare or whose health condition is already at a weak stage.
Read about Hanna's sanitation project in Ghana here.
Good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent bacterial diseases! Cooled food? Don't eat it. Sometimes it is hard to estimate the food quality by sight. It may be wise to ask for recommendations and find out where there’s more traffic. Locals too prefer eating safe and tasty food of course. Read more about Ghanaian cuisine here!
A few more tips..
- Identifying different tropical diseases is hard because in many cases the symptoms are very similar. Ask for appropriate examination at the clinic / hospital and avoid making your own conclusions.. you may only end up aggravating the situation (been there, done that).
- When in a hot climate and a doctor tells you to rest, you really need to get some proper rest! Do not prolong your disease by roaming about until you have recovered properly.
- Remember to drink a lot, whether you are in good health or not.
- Remember to pack some sunscreen lotion and a pair of good sunglasses along! (More packing tips here.)
Hanna and Maria