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Namibia - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson. For up-to-date information on health issues across Africa, click here.
Visitors to Namibia 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 a 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, also that the excess which you have to pay on a claim is reasonable.
Annual travel policies can be excellent value if you travel a lot, and some of the larger credit-card companies offer excellent policies. However, it can often be better to get your valuables named and insured for travel using your home contents insurance. These year-round policies will try harder to settle your claim fairly as they want your business in the long term.
Having a full set of immunisations takes time, normally at least six weeks, although some protection can be had by visiting your doctor as late as a few days before you travel. Ideally, see your doctor or travel clinic early on to establish an inoculation timetable.
Malaria is the most dangerous disease in Africa, and the greatest risk to the traveller. It occurs in northern, and occasionally central, Namibia, so it is essential that you take all possible precautions against it. Broadly, anti-malarial tablets are recommended for the northern third of the country from November to June, and for the Okavango and Kunene rivers all year round.
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.
Namibia is not a dangerous country, and is generally surprisingly crime-free. Outside of the main cities, crime against visitors, however minor, is exceedingly 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.
That said, there are increasing reports of theft and muggings, in particular from visitors to Windhoek, so here as in any other city it is important not to flaunt your possessions, and to take common-sense precautions against crime. A large rucksack, for example, is a prime target for thieves who may be expecting to find cameras, cash and credit cards tucked away in the pockets. Provided you are sensible, you are most unlikely to ever see any crime.
Most towns in Namibia have townships, and often these are home to many of the poorer sections of society. Generally they are perfectly safe to visit during the day, but tourists would be wise to avoid wandering around with valuables. If you have friends or contacts who are local and know the area well, then take the opportunity to explore with them a little. Wander around during the day, or go off to a nightclub together. You’ll find that they show you a very different facet of Namibian life from that seen in the more affluent areas. For women travellers, especially those travelling alone, it is important to learn the local attitudes about 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.