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Before You Go: Traveler Healthcare in Botswana

Travel health insurance recommended

Healthcare facilities in Botswana are limited, and may be inaccessible in rural areas. Check that you have a travel insurance policy that covers medical evacuation in case you may need specialized or prolonged treatment.

Public Healthcare: Travelers have access to affordably priced medical treatment at public health clinics and hospitals. Prepare for long waits and to pay with cash up front.

Private Healthcare: Gaborone Private Hospital is the largest private hospital in Botswana, but private medical practitioners are available in the larger cities such as Francistown and Maun. Hospitals typically require medical insurance coverage or cash up before you are treated.

Drinking Water: Most tap water is treated, but you should always ask first. You can buy bottled water at most shops, supermarkets, camps and lodges.

Food Safety: Be wary of street food, and limit yourself to meat, poultry, fish and vegetables that have been well-cooked. Always wash and peel fruit.

Sun & Heat Conditions: Try not to stay out in the heat and sun for prolonged periods, especially in the late morning to early afternoon. Prevent dehydration by drinking a lot of fluids, and taking rehydration mixes if necessary. Apply sunscreen often and consider wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.

Swimming: Don’t swim in freshwater, including lakes, rivers and streams. Even a quick dip may put you at risk of water-borne and parasitic infections.

HIV/AIDS: HIV is prevalent throughout Botswana. Take necessary precautions to prevent HIV, which is a virus that can be spread through blood and bodily fluids. It is essential that you not have unprotected sex with a new partner to avoid contracting HIV. Condoms are available everywhere in pharmacies and convenient stores.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, you should get to a hospital as soon as possible. Some hospitals and clinics offer antiretrovirals for free to rape victims, but they must be taken within 72 hours to be effective.

Malaria: If you‘ll be going north of Gaborone, you should consult your doctor about antimalarials. Malaria is common in northern Botswana’s Okavango and Chobe areas, especially after the rainy season ends in April.

Malaria is a parasitic infection caused by mosquito bites. Symptoms of malaria include fever, vomiting, headaches and fatigue. You should also pack mosquito netting, full-coverage clothing and footwear, as well as mosquito repellent that contains at least 35% DEET. You may also want to stay indoors during dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active. Malaria is not contagious.

Most anti-malarials must be taken at least 1-2 days before you depart. No anti-malarial drug is 100% effective, so you should still protect yourself from mosquitoes.

Sleeping Sickness: Occasional outbreaks of Sleeping Sickness, or East African trypanosomiasis, occur in Caprivi. Sleeping sickness is caused by tsetse fly bites.

Filariasis: Filariasis is a parasitic infection caused by the bites of black flies and mosquitoes. Most people don’t show immediate symptoms, but swelling can occur, especially in the legs.

Take precautions against bites by packing mosquito netting, full-coverage clothing and footwear, as well as mosquito repellent that contains at least 35% DEET.

Stomach Issues: If you do get sick, whether from contaminated food or drink or something else, up your intake of fluids and consider rehydration salts to help combat dehydration. If your illness persists more than five days, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor.

Hepatitis A: You should consult with your doctor about getting a hepatitis A vaccine before you go, particularly if you‘ll be spending time in rural areas. Hepatitis A vaccinations are routinely given as part of the childhood immunization regime, but you‘ll want to make sure you are properly protected before you go.Hepatitis A is a virus you can get from contaminated food and beverages. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and joint pain.

The hepatitis A vaccine is considered almost 100% effective, but you‘ll need 2 doses, 6 months apart.

Typhoid: If you‘ll be eating outside of established restaurants in urban areas, you should consult your doctor about getting a typhoid vaccination.

Typhoid is a bacterial illness you can get from contaminated food and beverages. Symptoms include a high fever, abdominal pain, weakness, headaches, constipation and a skin rash.

You‘ll only need 1 doss of the typhoid vaccine, but you‘ll need to take it at least 2 weeks before you depart. Typhoid vaccines are only about 50-80% effective, so you should still practice food safety.

Tuberculosis: If you’ll be in an area with tuberculosis, consult your doctor about getting a tuberculosis vaccination before you go. Botswana has some drug-resistant strains of Tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis, or TB, is a bacterial infection that is spread through the air. Symptoms of tuberculosis include coughing, fatigue, chest pain, fever, chills, loss of appetite and night sweats.

Schistosomiasis: Schistosomiasis, or bilharzia, is a parasitic infection transmitted through water. You can protect yourself from schistosomiasis by not wading in freshwater lakes, rivers, streams, etc. When bathing, run scalding hot water, then let it cool before you get in. You should also dry off well after any contact with freshwater. There is no vaccination for schistosomiasis at the time of posting.

If you’re bringing prescription medications:
  1. Check to see if there are restrictions on your medication in your destination country, especially if the medication contains narcotics, amphetamines or other often controlled substances
  2. Bring medications in their original, labeled container. Never carry loose medication
  3. Include your dated prescription signed by your doctor, certifying the condition the medications are prescribed for, dosages and their generic drug names. Ensure the name on the prescription, container and your passport all match.
  4. If you need syringes or needles, your doctor includes their need on the prescription.
  5. Before you leave, find out how you can legally access medications in the case of loss, theft or emergency – even OTC medication may require documentation from your doctor. Never have controlled substances mailed to you
  6. If legal, consider bring a second container of any essential medications, in case one is lost or stolen. Pack the primary bottle in your carry on, and the second one in another location. Personal-use quantity restrictions may limit you to 30-or 90-day supplies
Travel Health Insurance Checklist:
  1. Investigate travel health insurance options
  2. Be sure the plan includes any pre-existing conditions you have, and be sure to declare them before you go
  3. See if you need an “Extreme Sports” add-on policy if you’re planning activities like scuba diving or spelunking
  4. Find out the payment or reimbursement process and 24-hour emergency coverage contact