It’s important to research and look after your health when you’re visiting a country to take part in volunteer work. Companies like Projects Abroad PRO will help find you a worthwhile project which makes use of your professional skills. However, you’ll be no use to the host country if you don’t look after your own health and wellbeing. Here is some medical advice to follow before volunteering abroad.
It’s important to prepare for your volunteer project by researching what vaccinations you need for your travels. Diseases such as yellow fever, rabies and dengue fever are common in other parts of the world. You often need to get vaccinated four to six weeks in advance, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to get organised.
You may also have to start yourself on a course of malaria tablets, if you’re going to an infected area. Be sure to read the instructions carefully because some of these tablets can make you feel ill if they’re not taken with food.
One of the easiest ways to get ill abroad is by drinking contaminated water. In areas with poor sanitation you should never drink tap water or brush your teeth with it. Also, beware of drinking ice cubes mixed in with drinks.
Bottled water is usually very cheap so make sure you stick to drinking that. If you want to treat your own water you can boil it before drinking it, or use a chemical disinfectant, like iodine, to kill bacteria.
A lot of travellers end up with some form of food poisoning from eating foreign food. In some developing countries animal waste is used as fertiliser, contaminating foods growing close to the ground. If you’re in one of these countries you should avoid eating salads and uncooked fruits/ vegetables, unless you know they’ve been washed and peeled.
Be careful of any food that has been standing out in the open for a while, and steer clear of unpasteurised milk and undercooked seafood. Although food cooked from street traders can be delicious, only eat it if you’re sure it has been recently prepared and is served on clean crockery.
Be very careful not to let your skin burn when you’re visiting a hot country. Skin cancer is a growing problem in the UK so it’s very important that you protect yourself from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Try and keep in the shade between 11am and 3pm or, if you’re in the sun, cover yourself up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses. Use the right factor sunscreen for your skin – this should be at least factor 15.
You should also take precautions against Deep Vein Thrombosis if you’re taking a long flight to get to your volunteering project. Make sure you get up from your seat and walk around to stretch your legs during the flight. Also, drink water regularly and wear loose, comfortable clothes.
It’s also very important to practice safe sex when you’re abroad. Take protection with you as the quality of condoms varies across the globe.
Travelling and taking part in a volunteering project can be a wonderful and inspiring experience so you don’t want to ruin it by not taking proper care of your health. Before you leave, make sure you know the numbers of the local hospitals and emergency services in the country you’re visiting, and research which diseases pose a threat.