Whether travelling for business or pleasure, it pays to make sure you are
fully prepared for the health hazards that are present in many parts of the
world. By Kate Rouy
Whenever a major conflict or incident occurs anywhere in the world, you can
guarantee, in this age of war by television, who will be first on the scene.
From the Gulf War to Kosovo, via East Timor and Sierra Leone, it has been the
journalists who have made it to the front line before the first troops have
But although dodging bullets in some of the toughest regions in the world
may be meat and drink to the traditional war reporter, armed with little more
than his notebook and his tenacity, the modern TV journalist, complete with
crew, needs to be more prepared.
According to Bupa Wellness, the demand for vital battlefield medical packs
for British TV journalists and camera teams has never been so high.
Nurse Barbara Lapthorne, who operates travel clinics at Bupa Wellness
centres in the West End of London and in the City, is familiar with many famous
faces who pass through her hands before jetting off to the latest war zone.
"We have a steady stream of journalists and camera crews coming in for
travel protection, but when a major war erupts, such as those in Kosovo and in
the Gulf, there is always a mad panic as crews from a large number of TV
companies as well as news agencies and newspapers come to us for urgent medical
aid," she says.
"When we see journalists for a few minutes on our TV screens reporting
from war zones around the world, we have little conception of the trauma they
suffer and the risks they are taking in getting to the scene.
"But after dealing with these people, I now know some of the suffering
they have to endure. Often they are dumped in a remote and hostile location and
are left to fend for themselves."
Battlepacks provided by Bupa Wellness include emergency first aid supplies
that a crew might need if any of them is injured in a gun or rocket attack, or
is taken ill with potentially fatal diseases such as malaria.
The packs include dressings and bandages for cuts and burns, portable
suction units to unblock airways, sterile needles, intravenous fluids, splints,
strong painkillers and antibiotics usually only available on prescription,
malaria and anti-allergy treatments and diarrhoea tablets. Journalists who
covered the Gulf War in 1991 were also supplied with medicines to counter the
effects of germ warfare.
Each member of the crew receives a small personal medical pack and there is
a larger, more comprehensive pack for the whole team. On their return,
Lapthorne and her team check the medical packs and top up supplies in readiness
for the next assignment.
Of course, not all the clinic’s clients are embarking on such hazardous
trips. Most of its corporate clients want to arrange medical protection and
advice for employees travelling overseas on commercial business.
"Because business people are staying mostly in good-quality hotels and
generally don’t need to travel to remote areas, the risks to their health are
much less," says Lapthorne.
But up-to-date vaccination cover is still essential, and she and her team
monitor the latest health risks in all parts of the world, in close cooperation
with the Foreign Office.
She also deals with the occasional lone traveller, such as a cyclist
planning to pedal his way alone through Kurdistan. "I frequently see
people who are heading for regions posing a host of potential health
hazards," she says.
"Very few people have any knowledge of the health risks present in the
places they are aiming to visit, and only a small minority of holidaymakers go
"Cuba is becoming an increasingly popular destination, but how many
people appreciate the risk of contracting dengue fever from mosquito bites
there? And in the former Soviet bloc countries and parts of South Africa,
diphtheria is currently a problem."
– An estimated 5.4 million UK adults visited an area of the world classified
as an at- risk destination for hepatitis A, hepatitis B or typhoid, three of
the most common vaccine-preventable diseases in travellers.
– 51 per cent of all travellers to at-risk destinations claimed to have
travelled unprotected on their last trip;
– 67 per cent of travellers failed to seek advice from anyone about travel
health before their last trip;
– 24 per cent of unprotected travellers visiting at-risk destinations failed
to get vaccinated because they were unaware of the risks to their health;
– 31per cent of unprotected travellers considered the risk to their health
too low to justify vaccination;
– 30 per cent of travellers travelling unprotected to at-risk destinations
failed to seek protection because they were advised immunisation was not
Tips for healthy travelling
– Take care with food and drink. Drink bottled or boiled water, avoid ice,
salads, raw or uncooked vegetables, eat only fresh and thoroughly cooked food
and don’t buy food from street vendors;
– Use insect repellent. Cover skin after dusk, avoid ticks by wearing long
trousers and use insect repellent in scrub or wooded areas;
– If visiting areas with poor medical facilities, carry an emergency kit
containing sterile needles, syringes and sutures. Also include plasters or
adhesive dressings, water sterilisation tablets, anti-diarrhoea tablets, aspirin,
calamine lotion and sunblock. Ensure any kit containing sterilised needles or
syringes carries sufficient identification to ensure customs officials will
– Don’t forget spare glasses, contact lenses or dentures;
– Any current medication with spare prescriptions and the non-branded
generic name for medication you might need so that you can obtain it easily.
Don’t forget malaria tablets if required.
– Insurance documents are vital, and don’t forget to take an emergency
telephone number. Keep a spare copy separate from other important documents.
Also take any vaccination or immunisation certificates in case you are asked to
present them at customs.
For further advice, call the Department of Health’s Health Literature
Line on 0800 555777
Source: British Airways Travel Clinics and BBC News Online
There are a number of invaluable Internet sites that OH professionals can
recommend to colleagues travelling abroad:
World Health Organisation
An exhaustive guide to all aspects of travel health, including tropical
diseases, vaccine-preventable diseases and health technology. It includes the
Disease Outbreak Register (www.who.int/emc/outbreak_news/index.html), which
provides up-to-the-minute information about disease outbreaks in all regions of
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
1 Palace Street, London SW1E 5HE
Tel: 020-7238 4503/4504
Fax: 020-7238 4545
Invaluable source of travel advice, latest news and country-specific
Tel: 01276 685040
Provides information about immunisations and what is available at BA
clinics, warnings about malaria and diarrhoea and advice about how to prepare a
simple medical kit. There are 28 BA travel clinics in the UK offering
information on 84 health hazards in more than 250 countries. Advice can be
tailored to a specific journey. The clinics can offer a range of vaccinations
and all are registered yellow fever centres.A range of travel products can be
bought via the Internet, all approved by the London School of Hygiene and
Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Abroad
Web site based at the London School of Hygience and Tropical Medicine,
offering details on vaccinations, how to stay healthy overseas and while
travelling, disease descriptions, advice for travellers with special needs,
travel products to buy online.
The Malaria Foundation
Up-to-date opinions and news on the prevention and treatment of malaria.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
A US site that provides extensive detail on health risks and up-to-date
information on epidemics all over the world.
Highway to Health
US site providing destination-specific information to all the world’s most
popular destinations, listing emergency contact numbers, local hospitals and
medical clinics and embassy details in all major towns and cities.