Botswana - Health and safety


Health
Safety

HealthCrocodile, Chobe River, Botswana by Tobie Oosthuizen, Shutterstock

With Dr Felicity Nicholson. For up-to-date information on health issues across Africa, click here.

Botswana is one of the healthiest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It has a generally low population density, who are affluent by the region’s standards, and a very dry climate, which means there are comparatively few problems likely to affect visitors. The risks are further minimised if you are staying in good hotels, lodges, camps and guest farms, where standards of hygiene are generally at least as good as you will find at home.

(Photo: Crocodiles can be found along the riverfront of the Chobe River © Tobie Oosthuizen, Shutterstock)

The major dangers in Botswana are car accidents (caused by driving too fast, or at night, on gravel roads) and sunburn. Both can be very serious, yet both are within the power of the visitor to avoid.

It’s interesting to note that in recent years the most frequent medical reason for air evacuations from the Okavango Delta, and surrounds, has been the unexpected side effects of the anti-malarial drug Lariam.

Visitors to Botswana should always take out a comprehensive medical insurance policy to cover them for emergencies, including the cost of evacuation to another country within the region. Such policies come with an emergency number (often on a reverse-charge/call-collect basis). You would be wise to memorise this, or indelibly tattoo it in as many places as possible on your baggage.

Personal-effects insurance is also a sensible precaution, but check the policy’s fine print before you leave home. Often, in even the best policies, you will find a limit per item, or per claim – which can be well below the cost of replacement. If you need to list your valuables separately, then do so comprehensively. Check that receipts are not required for claims if you do not have them, and that the excess which you have to pay on a claim is reasonable.

Travel clinics and health information

A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on http://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.

Safety

Botswana is not a dangerous country. If you are travelling on an all-inclusive trip and staying at lodges and hotels, then problems of personal safety are exceedingly rare. There will always be someone on hand to help you. Even if you are travelling on local transport, perhaps on a low budget, you will generally be perfectly safe if you are careful.

Outside of rougher parts of the main cities, crime against visitors, however minor, is rare. Even if you are travelling on local transport on a low budget, you are likely to experience numerous acts of random kindness, but not crime. It is certainly safer for visitors than the UK, USA or most of Europe.

To get into a difficult situation, you’ll usually have to try hard. You need to make yourself an obvious target for thieves, perhaps by walking around at night, with showy valuables, in a less affluent area of a town or city. Provided you are sensible, you are most unlikely to ever see any crime here.

Even if you are travelling on local transport on a low budget, you are likely to experience numerous acts of random kindness, but not crime.

For women travellers, especially those travelling alone, it is doubly important to learn the local attitudes, and how to behave acceptably. This takes some practice, and a certain confidence. You will often be the centre of attention but, by developing conversational techniques to avert over-enthusiastic male attention, you should be perfectly safe. Making friends of the local women is one way to help avoid such problems.

Women Travellers

When attention becomes intrusive, it can help if you are wearing a wedding ring and have photos of ‘your’ husband and children, even if they are someone else’s. A good reason to give for not being with them is that you have to travel in connection with your job – biology, zoology, geography, or whatever. (But not journalism – that’s risky.)

Pay attention to local etiquette, and to speaking, dressing and moving reasonably decorously. Look at how the local women dress, and try not to expose parts of yourself that they keep covered. Think about body language. In much of southern Africa direct eye-contact with a man will be seen as a ‘come-on’; sunglasses are helpful here.

Don’t be afraid to explain clearly – but pleasantly rather than as a put-down – that you aren’t in the market for whatever distractions are on offer. Remember that you are probably as much of a novelty to the local people as they are to you, and the fact that you are travelling abroad alone gives them the message that you are free and adventurous. But don’t imagine that a Lothario lurks under every bush: many approaches stem from genuine friendliness or curiosity, and a brush-off in such cases doesn’t do much for the image of travellers in general.

Take sensible precautions against theft and attack – try to cover all the risks before you encounter them – and then relax and enjoy your trip. You’ll meet far more kindness than villainy

Travelling with a disability

For wheelchair users and people who have difficulties walking, Botswana is a relatively accessible safari destination. It is possible to book through a specialised operator and be sure that your needs are met, or to do enough preparation in advance and travel independently. Either way, with some endeavour, everybody can experience the unique highlights this country has to offer.

Transport

Air travel

Most international travellers arrive via Johannesburg, where the services and facilities for disabled people rival and sometimes better those in Europe. In Maun, the airport has an aisle chair, the staff are extremely efficient and there is a spacious (albeit not officially wheelchair-accessible) toilet.

The shorter flights from Maun to Kasane and into the Okavango Delta are also quite possible; when I went, the pilot helped lift me to my seat and there was room to stow my wheelchair with the luggage. However, these planes are small so a folding wheelchair and soft baggage are essential. Also, do note that airfields in the Delta are usually just a landing strip with few other facilities, and if an aisle chair is needed in Kasane, this should be ordered from Gaborone in advance.

By road

Safari vehicles in Botswana are often 4x4, and therefore higher than normal cars. This means that – unless you use a specialised operator with adapted cars and trained staff – wheelchair transfers may be more difficult. My advice is to thoroughly explain your needs and always stay in control of the situation.

It is possible to hire self-drive vehicles, but I know of no company providing cars that are adapted for disabled drivers.

Distances are large and roads are often bumpy, so if you are prone to skin damage you may need to take extra care. Place your own pressure-relieving cushion on top of (or instead of) the original car seat and, if necessary, pad around knees and elbows.

There is no effective legislation in Botswana to help facilitate disabled travellers’ journeys by bus.

With some endeavour, patience and planning, everybody can experience the unique highlights this country has to offer.

Accommodation

In Maun, Island Safari Lodge has two chalets with roll-in showers; Thamalakane River Lodge has two chalets with roll-in showers (no hand railing); Maun Lodge has two rooms with roll-in shower but both have a 15cm step to enter the rooms; and Riley’s Hotel  has one step-free room with a bath.

In Kasane, Mowana Safari Lodge and Chobe Marina Lodge have adapted rooms; Chobe Safari Lodge has two rooms with roll-in showers; and Chobe Game Lodge has two rooms with roll-in showers.

There are several lodges and camps in the Okavango Delta that have a degree of accessibility, depending on your needs. Motswiri has a spacious tent designed for wheelchair users, with handles and a roll-in shower, but is accessible only by air in small Cessna planes.

Other camps are accessible by road: Savute Safari Lodge, which has one tent with a ramp, roll-in shower and plenty of manoeuvring space; Okuti, which is in general very accessible for wheelchair users, with very spacious rooms and level-entry showers, but the doors accessing the bathroom and shower room are quite tight; and Xakanaxa Camp, which has ramps to access the main area and roll-in showers in the rooms, but no space next to the toilet for a wheelchair. Outside the Delta, Leroo La Tau Lodge, has one tent with a ramp, roll-in shower and plenty of manoeuvring space. In Zambia’s Livingstone, the Royal Livingstone and Zambezi Sun hotels each have two highly adapted rooms.

Health and safety

In general, doctors will know about ‘everyday’ illnesses, but you must understand and be able to explain your own particular medical requirements. A good first stop for medical advice in Maun is Dr Chris Carey. Dr Carey runs his own practice, and being a wheelchair user himself, may have a deeper understanding of some disabilities than most practitioners. Rural clinics are often basic so, if possible, take all necessary medication and equipment with you.

It is advisable to pack this in your hand luggage during flights in case your main luggage is delayed. Botswana can be extremely hot. If this is a problem for you, be careful to book accommodation with fans or air conditioning. A useful cooling aid is a plant-spray bottle.

Security

For anyone following the usual security precautions the chances of robbery are greatly reduced. In fact, as a disabled person I often feel more ‘noticed’, and therefore a less attractive target for thieves. But the opposite may also apply, so do stay aware of where your bags are and who is around you, especially during car transfers and similar activities.

Specialist tour operators

Endeavour Safaris is the leader in disability travel in Botswana with custom-designed mobile-camping equipment & several adapted vehicles.

Gay Travellers

Homosexuality is illegal in Botswana, although no-one – as far as I know – has ever been prosecuted, and same-sex relationships have never been a problem for guests in safari camps. While it’s not at all unusual in traditional societies to see two men – or two women – casually holding hands, public displays of affection between two people (gay or straight) may create tension and are best avoided.

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