Safe Travels to Haiti
Haiti covers the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola; its capital city is Port-Au-Prince. In January 2010, a devastating 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti instantly leaving thousands of people without homes, food, clean water and medical care. According to the most recent report from Mission Data International, Haiti was the most popular mission / volunteer trip destination in 2011. Over the past year, we have insured thousands of people volunteering and serving in Haiti. With the increased travel to Haiti, we have also seen an increased number of clients becoming sick and injured in accidents. Over the past two years we have assisted in evacuating 5 individuals from Haiti.
If you have purchased an international health insurance policy form Insurance Services of America and need medical assistance, please contact the 24 hour worldwide telephone assistance number located on your ID Card. Prior to departure, we recommend completing the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Program. Even if you are traveling in a group, take time to be concerned about your personal safety and security.
We want our clients to remain and return safe. Here are some practical pre-departure tips:
- Contact a travel doctor 4 to 6 weeks prior to your departure date to allow time for vaccinations to take effect. If you are going on a Spring Break mission trip, then make an appointment to see your travel doctor as soon as possible.
- There are currently no required vaccinations for US citizens to enter into Haiti but the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends you have your routine MMR and tetanus vaccinations along with Hepatitis A and B. The CDC also recommends taking a Malaria prophylactic. You can always view a current list of recommended vaccinations online at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/haiti.htm.
- Since October 2010, a cholera outbreak has spread across the country, and CDC has issued an outbreak notice regarding cholera. The best prevention of cholera is to not drink unfiltered water, eat any food that is made with unfiltered water and it is advisable to not wash with unfiltered water. For more tips download “5 Basic Cholera Prevention Messages” online at http://www.cdc.gov/haiticholera/pdf/cholera_preventionmessages.pdf.
Medical Facilities and The Importance of Travel Medical Insurance for Your Trip to Haiti
The US State Department warns:
You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
- Does my policy apply when I’m out of the United States? Are there banned countries?
- Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or a medical evacuation?
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular US health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out travel medical insurance for your trip. The US Embassy does not have funds appropriated to cover private citizens’ medical expenses.
Medical facilities in Haiti are scarce and for the most part sub-standard. Life-threatening emergencies often require evacuation to a higher standard of care. Even the most cautious travelers can get sick or injured in an unforeseen accident. We always recommend contacting your current insurance company and asking if they coordinate emergency medical evacuation outside the US. If your current insurance policy does not give you peace of mind, then contact a Client Advisor at Insurance Services of America for an affordable travel medical insurance policy.
US Embassy Information:
Address: Tabarre 41, Boulevard, 15 Octubre in Port-au-Prince
Phone: +(509) 2-229-8000
Email: [email protected]
You can find recent messages posted to US Citizens from the embassy online at: http://haiti.usembassy.gov/service/us-citizen-services/warden-messages.html
The official currency of Haiti is the Gourde, (approximately 40 gourdes to the US dollar). An unofficial currency known as the “Haitian dollar” is also used in local establishments (one Haitian dollar is equivalent to five Gourdes.)
Prior to the quake, Port-Au-Prince was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the Western hemisphere. While accurate statistics regarding crime rates since January 2010 are unavailable, the risk is believed to be high; law enforcement is unlikely to be able to response to the majority of incidents and insecurity runs high. We advise you know your organization’s security measures and know the procedures for a medical as well as non-medical crisis.
To have the most benefit, see a doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your trip to allow time for your vaccines to take effect. If you are leaving sooner, it is still important to see a doctor as soon as possible for vaccines, medications and information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while traveling.
Your doctor will make specific recommendations, depending on your health and immunization history, areas of the country you will be visiting, planned activities and other factors. If your travel plans will take you to more than one country during a single trip, be sure to let your health-care provider know. Long-term travelers, such as those who plan to work or study abroad, may also need additional vaccinations as required by their employer or school.
If you have a chronic medical condition, share your travel plans with any doctors who are currently treating you.
Your doctor can give you important advice and prescribe vaccines and medications to help you stay safe while traveling abroad. The chart below shows vaccinations and medications you and your physician may wish to consider before travel to Haiti. This is not an exhaustive list, your doctor or team leader might suggest additional precautions so you will be free from worrying and be able to focus on serving.
|Vaccine or Disease||Vaccination or Treatment Recommendations|
|Routine||Recommended if you are not up-to-date with routine shots such as, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine, poliovirus vaccine, etc.|
|Hepatitis B||Recommended, especially for those who might be exposed to blood or body fluids, have sexual contact with the local population, or be exposed through medical treatment (e.g., for an accident).|
|Japanese Encephalitis||Not endemic|
|Malaria||Recommended – Atovaquone/ proguanil, chloroquine, doxycycline, or mefloquine|
|Meningococcal Meningitis||Not endemic|
|Yellow Fever||Proof of yellow fever vaccination required only if travelers is arriving from a country where yellow fever is present|
For more tips for traveling safely abroad, visit http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1747.html
Traveling and serving abroad will change your life. Stay safe and happy travels.
By Adam Bates