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  • Dr Michael Oehley

I'm sick overseas! Help?!

Travel gives us some of our best experiences - memories to last a lifetime. But it can also give us some of the worst - albeit funniest - experiences, when we fall sick overseas. In my travels I have run the gamut - from desperately searching for a toilet in a Bolivian shopping mall, only to discover that the toilet paper dispenser was coin operated (and my pockets were empty!); to trying to explain (in bad Spanish) to a Mexican pharmacist that what we needed was laxatives for constipation (when he thought we wanted the opposite - constipating agents for diarrhoea!); to lying on a boat on the Ganges, sick as a dog, with barely enough energy to lean over the edge and vomit.


Sometimes being sick while travelling is no laughing matter, however. Being bitten by a dog or a monkey could expose you to rabies - see recommended treatment guidelines here. A car accident on dangerous overseas roads in vehicles we wouldn't consider road-worthy in New Zealand can be fatal or cause serious injury. Or other illnesses could strike you down, such as heart attacks, strokes or severe pneumonia - just when you least expect it.


I am often asked 'what can we do if we get sick overseas?' The answer depends a lot on which country you are in. Some destinations (Europe, North America, Japan and Korea for example) have reliable first-world medical services. Other destinations (South Africa, Malaysia and China for example) have outstanding private medical services - if your travel insurer is paying. In other countries (including most of those in South America, Africa, India and the Pacific islands), the quality of medical care can range from very good to diabolically bad or even non-existent.


Here are my recommendations if you get sick overseas and require medical (or other) assistance:

1. Contact your insurance company. It helps to have comprehensive travel insurance with a reliable organisation e.g. Southern Cross Travel Insurance.

2. Contact a Medical Directory such as I.A.M.A.T. which can put you directly in contact with a reliable medical professional in your country of destination.

3. Contact your nearest New Zealand Embassy who can provide consular assistance with various things such as contacting relatives at home. Note that the New Zealand government will NOT cover the cost of your overseas medical bills.

4. Ask your hotel concierge for recommendations, as local knowledge is often helpful (although not always reliable).

5. If your medical condition is precarious and you are not receiving the medical care you need while overseas, discuss medical evacuation with your insurance company - as this may be your best chance of making a full and healthy recovery.


Let's hope that you never require the above advice, but it's still handy to have as a reference for a rainy day.



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Waikato Travel Clinic at Avalon Medical

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NEW ZEALAND 3200

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