Provided you’re up to date with vaccinations and take anti-malarials if visiting malarial areas, your main health risks are likely to be dehydration, heatstroke or sunburn due to the intensity of the desert sun. These, however, are easily prevented by taking the simple precautions below.
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Should you be unfortunate enough to fall ill, or have an accident, you can take heart from the fact that Namibia generally enjoys high-quality medical facilities – though they are only located in the main towns, which could be some distance away. For this reason, you should make sure your medical cover includes emergency evacuation, especially if you intend to travel to remote parts of the country.
There are no mandatory inoculations for Namibia, although tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A are typically recommended. In addition to checking some of the available online medical resources for further advice, make sure you consult a travel clinic six to eight weeks in advance of travel to give you time for any jabs or boosters. Clinics will often suggest considering further injections for hepatitis B and maybe even rabies, but they are only likely to be of relevance if you are intending to spend extended periods of time living among poor rural communities. In the case of rabies, even if you have the vaccinations, you will still need post-exposure treatment – a series of jabs – in the extremely unlikely event of your being bitten by a dog or wild animal. Travellers from countries where yellow fever vaccinations are mandatory must be able to produce a yellow fever inoculation certificate.
Sunstroke and sunburn
The danger of sunstroke or heatstroke posed by Namibia’s intense desert sun cannot be overemphasised. Wherever possible you should avoid any exertion during the heat of the day; walk in the shade; wear a wide-brimmed hat; and cover yourself with sunblock. Shoulders, noses, bald heads and feet (especially if wearing sandals) are particularly prone to sunburn. Drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic drinks to avoid dehydration, and keep up your salt intake.
Malaria – transmitted by a parasite in the saliva of an infected female anopheles mosquito – can be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms – fever, chills, headaches and muscle pains – are easily confused with flu. Thankfully, only the northern strip of Namibia along the perennial rivers is a year-round high-risk area; other areas, broadly covering the northern third of the country, hold some risk during the rains (Nov/Dec–April/May), when periodically there are areas of stagnant water where mosquitoes can breed.
Malaria is most effectively combated through prevention – wearing long loose sleeves and trousers for protection at dawn and dusk, when the mosquitoes are at their most active, dousing yourself in repellent, and sleeping under a mosquito net or in screened rooms. Taking a course of appropriate prophylactics – consult a travel clinic – is also strongly advised.
Bites, stings and parasites
Snakes and scorpions may feature heavily in films set in deserts but in reality there’s very little chance of your seeing one, let alone getting bitten by one, as most scarper at the mere approach of a human. Moreover, the vast majority of snakes in Namibia are not dangerous. Still, it’s wise to take precautions: where there are places for snakes to hide, wear long trousers and closed shoes to minimize the risk of getting bitten; carry a torch when walking at night; and if camping, shake your shoes out before putting them on in the morning. If someone is bitten, above all ensure they don’t panic – but don’t try to suck or cut out the poison or apply a tourniquet in true Hollywood style; all these measures will do more harm than good. Try to remember what the snake looked like, keep the infected area immobile, tie a bandage (not too tight) a few inches above the area, and seek immediate medical attention.
In the areas of sluggish or slow-moving water in the Kavango and Zambezi regions, there’s a very low risk of bilharzia (schistosomiasis), though you’re unlikely to be swimming in the rivers due to the much greater risk of encountering crocodiles.
UK and Ireland
Fitfortravel w fitfortravel.nhs.uk. Excellent NHS (Scotland) public access site with country-specific advice, the latest health bulletins and information on immunizations.
Hospital for Tropical Diseases Travel Clinic t 020 7388 9600 (Travel Clinic), t 020 7950 7799 (24hr Travellers Healthline Advisory Service – see website for additional country-specific information), w thehtd.org.
MASTA (Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Abroad) t 0870 606 2782, w masta-travel-health.com. List of affiliated travel clinics where you can get vaccinations and detailed country-specific health briefs.
National Travel Health Network and Centre w nathnac.org. Excellent website for health professionals and the travelling public, providing fact sheets on various travel health risks and a free database of country-specific health info.
STA Travel w statravel.co.uk. List of STA travel clinics in England and vaccination prices; full-time students with student card can get a 10 percent discount.
Tropical Medical Bureau t 1850 487 674, w tmb.ie. List of travel clinics in Ireland.
US and Canada
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) t 800 232 6348 (24hr health helpline), w cdc.gov/travel. Official US government travel health site that’s laden with info.
Public Health Agency of Canada w phac-aspc.gc.ca. Distributes free pamphlets on travel health and provides a comprehensive list of travel clinics in the country.
Travellers’ Medical and Vaccination Centre w tmvc.com. List of travel health centres in Canada and vaccination costs plus brief travel health tips.
Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
Travellers’ Medical and Vaccination Centre w traveldoctor.com.au. User-friendly site listing travel clinics in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, plus accessible fact sheets on travel health and postings of health alerts worldwide.