Volunteering overseas is a life-changing experience. However, as well as being enriching and giving you the chance to do your bit for people in need, volunteering also comes with a host of health issues to be aware of.
To get the most out of the experience, Dr. Graham Fry, Medical Director of the Tropical Medical Bureau says that there are a few health essentials to check off your list before you head off on your journey.
1. Health Check
It’s no fun being sick overseas so many organisations insist on a medical certification confirming that you are in good general health. A pre-departure health check will cover four main issues:
- Checking that you’re in good general medical and psychological health
- Obtaining base-line levels for various simple blood tests so that, if sickness occurs, these are available to compare.
- Ensuring required vaccines are up-to-date and issues relating to malaria prophylaxis are clearly understood.
- Making sure contact between the volunteer and the home medical centre is easy in case medical problems arise while abroad.
Thanks to our amazing student promotional price, you can get recommended vaccinations, a consultation with a TMB doctor, Malaria prescription where recommended and a voucher for Travelshop.ie, from only €115. Simply present your Student Leap Card to avail of this great deal. See TMB.ie for further information on TMB’s student offer.
With the expansion of the Internet there are few areas of the planet where contact is impossible. While you are away, the Tropical Medical Bureau offers a 24/7 emergency phone line for registered TMB patients. Patients can use this service to contact the TMB while overseas if they have any sickness. The TMB also have an international network of clinics.
In many regions of the tropics the risk of malaria is high and volunteers need to be constantly aware of how to protect themselves. The ABCD of malaria protection is essential:
- A. Avoid mosquito bites (repellents, nets, cover the exposed areas of the body etc)
- B. Be aware of how serious this disease can rapidly become, often with fatal consequences.
- C. Careful attention to any possible symptoms so that a rapid diagnosis can be made.
- D. Drugs – take the correct drugs to protect against the disease.
4. Staying healthy in your new surroundings
It is very difficult to maintain any level of fitness while overseas in many regions of the tropics but there are many things you can do to stay healthy:
- Watch your alcohol and cigarettes intake.
- Pace yourself and don’t take on too much at once.
- Sun exposure and lack of clean water may lead to dehydration especially if the workload is heavy.
- Salt depletion is very common is the first few weeks and this requires a careful balance between replacement and over indulgence.
- Exciting as the experience is, homesickness often strikes so the support of your new colleagues is essential.
- Accidents happen so make sure you have adequate medical insurance.
- Sleep – There are often noises which you would never have heard before so adjusting to the new noises (and using less than 5 star bathroom facilities!) to help you to get a good night’s kip is essential to mental and physical wellbeing.