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Angola - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson. For up-to-date information on health issues across Africa, click here.
Most of the tropical (and not so tropical) nasties are present in Angola – hepatitis types A, B, C, measles, typhoid, polio, leprosy, amoebic infestations, cholera, yellow fever, malaria, tetanus, meningitis, trypanosomiasis, rabies, tuberculosis, Marburg and HIV/AIDS to name a few.
Other preparations to ensure a healthy trip to Angola require checks on your immunisation status: immunisation regimes change and new vaccines come on to the market, so do not assume that the stuff you read on random health pages on the internet is current or authoritative. The only compulsory immunisation for entry into Angola is for yellow fever but it is also wise to be up to date with tetanus, polio and diphtheria (now given as an all-in-one vaccine, Revaxis, that lasts for ten years), and hepatitis A. Immunisations against meningococcus and rabies may also be recommended. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that the yellow-fever vaccine should be taken by those over nine months of age, although proof of vaccination is only officially required for those over one year of age. If the vaccine is not suitable for you then obtain an official exemption certificate from your GP or a travel clinic, although you may be advised not to travel if it is considered too risky to travel without vaccination.
The Anopheles mosquito that transmits the parasite is found throughout Angola, and discounting road accidents, malaria poses the single biggest threat to travellers in most parts of tropical Africa. It is unwise for high-risk groups, such as pregnant women or children, to travel in malarial parts of Africa.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Crime and violence
Luanda’s reputation as a very violent and dangerous city is overstated. With about two firearms-related murders every day it is certainly not up there with Johannesburg or Nairobi, but it is much more dangerous than London, Lisbon or Paris. The security situation has improved significantly since the end of the civil war – police numbers are up, there is a strong armed police presence on the streets and mean-looking rapid-intervention teams known as ‘Ninjas’ patrol Luanda from time to time. There are also occasional high-profile security crackdowns. However, the police need better pay to remove the temptation to accept bribes, and much more needs to be done on training. Despite the improvements you do need to follow a strict security regime and not become complacent. The main cities and their suburbs are the most dangerous. The countryside is much safer.
The main drivers of crime are poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth, manifested by the poor conditions in which millions of people continue to live. The principal tools of the criminal’s trade are guns and knives – they are frequently brandished but fortunately they are very rarely used against foreigners. A high proportion of the population owns a gun – a hangover from the civil war when the government armed the population of Luanda to help protect the city. A significant risk to visitors is mugging. You can reduce the risks by never walking anywhere at night and some embassies recommend you do not walk during the day.
Dressing down and keeping a low profile is always a good idea when travelling. Carrying valuables such as a laptop, camera or briefcase is an open invitation to trouble. Mobile phones are highly coveted and one of the main reasons for street crime. Never use a mobile phone on the street. Instead, switch it to silent/vibrate and return the call when safe to do so. Savvy travellers carry a second wallet with US$20 and an expired credit card or two which can be handed over to muggers. If threatened with a gun or a knife, your only defence is to hand over your valuables. Your life is much more important than your wallet and mobile phone. There has been an increase in targeting expats recently, even in higher-end areas such as Talatona, and during daylight hours. It is very rare for these robberies to result in violence if you offer no resistance.
There are a few no-go areas in Luanda such as the Rocha Pinto area and the serpentine road that leads up to the American Embassy is unsafe if on foot. Walking between the bars on the Ilha is not a good idea. Even the Avenida Marginal feels dodgy. Only walk or jog on the Marginal in the company of others, and at busy times. If you wander off into the poorer neighbourhoods you will attract unwelcome attention and are in any case very likely to get lost. As there are no taxis or buses to help you find your way out, going there in the first place is a bad idea.
Levels of sexual violence are thought to be relatively high, but most incidents are between Angolans and are much more common in the suburbs than in the centre of Luanda. Drink spiking is on the increase, especially in some bars on the Ilha in Luanda. As a result, unaccompanied female travellers should certainly aim to stay at the more expensive hotels where security is better and room service can be ordered if necessary. As most of the clients of the big hotels are single men, women will receive attention from bored expats, the vast majority of whom will simply want to share a bottle of wine over dinner. Outside Luanda, female travellers should aim to stay at the new hotels which are springing up in each of the provincial capitals.
Travellers with a disability
The war maimed tens of thousands of combatants and land mines injured over 80,000 including innocent civilians and children. The NGO Handicap International estimates that persons with disabilities constitute 10% of the population. There is no legislation in place to ensure that people with disabilities can access public or private facilities. Many buildings are not accessible – narrow doors and steep steps and lifts that do not work. Pavements are often nonexistent or are broken or peppered with open manholes, obstacles and puddles of water. Public transport is not accessible. Only a few of the bigger hotels have access ramps. Having said all that, depending on your vigour, disability and desire, a visit to Angola could be very rewarding.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Angola and homosexuality is neither understood nor discussed openly. A year or so ago I would have said that the strong influence of the churches and traditional African beliefs meant that change in attitudes would be unlikely in the medium-term future. Since then, Titica, an Angolan transsexual has gained enormous popularity as the kuduru artist of the year 2011. Her music blasts out of the candongueiro collective taxis and she is a regular on television and radio. She has gained the hearts of many Angolans and whilst her sexuality remains shrouded in mystery she has brought the taboo of sexuality to the fore. Despite her popularity she faces discrimination and there is a long way to go before LGBT issues are accepted in Angola. Indeed the new Angolan Constitution of February 2010 rejected the idea of same-sex marriage.
Many Angolans find the public display of affection between same-sex couples distasteful at best, or downright repugnant at worst. Reactions could be extreme, including violence, so gay and lesbian travellers should avoid drawing attention to themselves. Of course homosexuality exists in Angola and there is a small but highly secretive underground network of gay Angolans which visitors would find very difficult to access. There are no gay support groups or social clubs and no obvious meeting places though those with a highly tuned ‘gaydar’ should head for the bars and restaurants on the Ilha where they are more likely to meet gay foreigners and Angolans. It is perfectly acceptable for two people of the same sex to share a twin room in a hotel but asking for a double is not recommended. Gay visitors should not misinterpret Angolan men’s habit of scratching their crotches – it’s not a come-on.