Again, this is often an issue that can be blown out of proportion to the point it puts people off visiting Africa entirely – and with the recent Ebola outbreaks this only served to compound those fears. Of course, this does not mean you shouldn’t take your health seriously, you should just not let the fear of getting sick ruin your trip. Vaccines and some form of malaria prophylaxis should be the two main health concerns before travelling to Africa. Vaccines that are all but essential are Hepatitis A, meningitis, and Typhoid. And for some places Yellow Fever is so essential that it is compulsory that you have it to legally enter many countries. Rabies is optional, and the series of vaccines only buy you time if you get bitten by an animal. You will still need to get to a hospital quickly for treatment. It’s also worth mentioning that the Typhoid vaccine is not 100% effective. So you still need to watch out what you eat and drink. An easy way to go about this is to make sure you clean your hands regularly – especially before eating – and to only eat in restaurants or from street vendors who have plenty of customers. The ones that do not probably don’t for a good reason. And it could well be because the food there makes people sick due to poor food hygiene standards or food preparation.
As for malaria and dengue fever: Malaria medication is becoming ineffective due to malaria evolving to even the most advanced medications (currently Malarone), and is expensive pretty much everywhere in the world. It is also never going to be 100% effective. This is why many medical professionals increasingly recommend not getting bitten by mosquitoes in the first place as the best way to prevent malaria, dengue, and any other mosquito-borne diseases. Using high content DEET repellent spray will detract mosquitoes, sleeping under mosquito nets, and wearing long trousers in the evenings when outside are undoubtedly the best way of preventing these diseases, simply because these measures will prevent you from getting bitten in the first place.
At the end of the day, you may well get a little bit of ‘travellers diarrhoea’ during the trip which lasts a couple of days, but this is rarely serious even if you are unlucky enough to catch a bug that causes it. Sometimes – at worse – you may need some antibiotics from a local doctor for stubborn cases, but this will certainly not necessarily ruin your trip.
Other health tips worth mentioning are to keep hydrated in hot climates. If you are struggling or have diarrhoea then electrolyte solutions (known as universally as ‘ORS’ – Oral Rehydration Salts) can be found in virtually every pharmacy on the continent, for cheap prices. It will rehydrate you and could well save you from more serious ailments such as heatstrokes. In a pinch you can even make your own; with a 0.5 teaspoon of salt to 6 teaspoons of sugar stirred into 1 litre of clean water.
And remember: Always try to eat local. Places that offer ‘western’ dishes are usually sub-standard quality and often the main culprit in cases of stomach problems, and you came here for the culture, of which trying the local food is part of!