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Aid workers

Aid workers
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6 things savvy healthcare and humanitarian workers do to avoid getting sick

Humanitarian and aid workers travel to dangerous places with poor infrastructure to do a stressful job. You need to take care of yourself to ensure you can give the best service to the people you are helping. Here are some tips.

1.       Get your shots

The travel health nurses at Canadian Travel Clinics will take the time to understand your itinerary and the challenges you will be facing. They will check that your routine boosters are up to date.

Healthcare workers are at additional risk of hepatitis B from needlestick injuries, so you may be offered this shot. And if you are in a remote area or rescuing animals you may be offered a shot against rabies.

We’d like you to come and see us six to eight weeks before you travel. However, we know that you may be sent out at short notice. Even if you are departing imminently, come and see us anyway, and we’ll do our best to help you out. We have travel clinics in Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Medicine Hat, Okotoks, Red Deer and Calgary.

2.       Get in-depth health advice

You may also need to see your usual physician if you need more advice on managing a long-term condition while you are on assignment. You may, for example, need extra supplies of your normal medications, or guidance on how altitude, stress or heat could affect your condition.

A check-up with your dentist is a good idea, too – this will pick up any problems with your teeth. Toothache can be agonizing at the best of times and it will make your life very difficult indeed if you are in a remote area with no access to a dentist.

The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has comprehensive advice for humanitarian aid workers.

3.       Follow the rules

The organization that is running your mission will have some guidelines and equipment lists to keep you safe. They are there for your safety, so you should pay close attention to them.

In particular, obey rules about reporting your own illnesses. Learn the symptoms of endemic local diseases, and in a malarious area do not dismiss fever or flu symptoms as “just a cold”.

4.       Support your immune system

Eat and drink well, protect your sleep and take your rest days: this will keep your immune system working and protect you from infections.

Your mental health also has a bearing on your wellbeing: take up offers of counselling and lean on your support network.

5.       Prevent accidents

Take it slowly at first: get to know your surroundings and the hazards you face. Slips and trips are more likely to occur in an environment that is new to you, particularly if you are rushing.

6.       Beat the bugs

Avoiding insect bites is a key tactic for avoiding disease in many parts of the world. Discuss your itinerary with your travel health adviser to work out if you need a regime of anti-malarials. You should also practise mosquito avoidance if Dengue fever, Zika and yellow fever occur where you are staying, and there may be other more localized nasties to dodge, too. Ask your travel health adviser, and take advice from your organization.