Health and safety in Ivory Coast

Health

Sensible preparation will go a long way to ensuring your trip to Ivory Coast goes smoothly. For first-time visitors to Africa in particular, this includes a visit to a travel clinic to discuss matters such as vaccinations and malaria prevention. The following points are worth emphasising.

Don’t travel without comprehensive medical travel insurance that will fly you home in an emergency. Make sure all your immunisations are up to date. It is wise to be up to date on tetanus, polio and diphtheria (now given as an all-in-one vaccine, Revaxis, which lasts for ten years) and MMR. In the UK, two doses of MMR given at least one month apart are recommended for best protection. Immunisation against hepatitis A and B, meningitis, typhoid, rabies and TB may also be recommended.

A yellow-fever certificate is required from all travellers aged nine months and over. However, the vaccine is not suitable for everyone so it is wise to have a consultation with a designated yellow fever centre specialist before you book your trip. If you are unable to take the vaccine then health-care professionals will advise you not to travel in most circumstances.

The biggest health threat is malaria. There is no vaccine against this mosquito-borne disease, but a variety of preventative drugs are available, including mefloquine, atovaquone/proguanil (eg: Malarone) and the antibiotic doxycycline. The most suitable choice of drug varies depending on the individual and the country they are visiting, so visit your GP or a travel clinic for medical advice. If you will be spending a long time in Africa, and expect to visit remote areas, be aware that no preventative drug is 100% effective, so carry a cure too.

Though advised for everyone, a pre-exposure course of rabies vaccination, involving three doses taken over a minimum of 21 days, is particularly important if you intend to have contact with animals, or are likely to be 24 hours away from medical help. If you have not had this then exercise serious caution around stray animals, as you’ll need to head for Abidjan immediately and possibly evacuate for the necessary treatment.

Safety

Since the cessation of hostilities in 2011, Ivory Coast has generally been a safe travel destination, certainly where crime and associated issues are concerned. However, two fairly recent – albeit thankfully isolated – incidents sent shocks through the tourism sector: the 2016 Grand-Bassam terrorist assault and the 2017 military mutiny.

Instead, the biggest concerns for most travellers should be malaria and road accidents associated with public transport. Levels of hassle are low, too, and tolerance for the quirks of outsiders is high, though it should be pointed out that, as is the case almost anywhere in the world, breaking the law – in particular the usage of illegal drugs – could land you in big trouble.

The level of crime against tourists is generally very low, and almost entirely restricted to a few specific neighbourhoods in the bigger cities. The main centre of crime, not unexpectedly, is Abidjan, where muggings and drive-by theft from foreign nationals are reported from time to time, though certainly not with the frequency of many other African capitals. There have been recent cases of armed bandits holding up motorists on the main highways around Abidjan and those leading to the far north and west, although the vast majority of victims have been Ivorian. Very occasionally foreigners fall foul of home invasion robberies.

Women travellers

Women travelling alone have little to fear on a gender-specific level in Ivory Coast, and will often find themselves the subject of great kindness from strangers who want to ensure they are safe.

The most hassle you are likely to face is heightened levels of flirtatiousness from many Ivorian men, with the odd direct proposition and a million marriage proposals thrown in. They can be persistent, but barring the marriage part, it’s nothing that you wouldn’t expect in any Western country, or – probably with a far greater degree of persistence – from many male travellers.

It would also be prudent to pay some attention to how you dress in Ivory Coast, particularly in the more conservative Muslim north, where covered shoulders and skirts or trousers that come below the knee are advisable. It’s not that Ivorians would be deeply offended by women travellers wearing shorts or other outfits that might be seen to be provocative, but it pays to allow for local sensibilities, and under certain circumstances revealing clothes may be perceived to make a statement that you don’t intend.

LGBTQ+ travellers

Unusually for an African nation, consensual sex in private between members of the same gender is legal in Ivory Coast. However, such an act committed in public is punishable by law with up to two years’ imprisonment and a 530,000F fine. Moreover, there is no legislation in place to prevent harassment or discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people. Legalities aside, the vast majority of Ivorians regard any homosexual act or relationship, whether between male or female, or local or foreigner, as profoundly unnatural and sinful.

None of which means that homosexuality doesn’t exist in Ivory Coast, only that out of necessity it is somewhat clandestine. At risk of stating the blindingly obvious, Ivory Coast clearly isn’t a destination suited to single travellers in search of anything approximating a gay scene, while homosexual couples who do visit the country should exercise maximum discretion. 

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