Health and safety in São Tomé and Príncipe

Health

People new to exotic travel often worry about tropical diseases, but it is accidents that are most likely to carry you off. With the increase in traffic, road accidents are becoming more common in São Tomé and Príncipe, so be aware and do what you can to reduce risks. Try to travel during daylight hours, always wear a seatbelt, and refuse to be driven by anyone who has been drinking.

Preparations to ensure a healthy trip require checks on your immunisation status: 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 measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)Immunisations against hepatitis A, tuberculosis, typhoid, hepatitis B and rabies may also be recommended. Ideally you should visit your own doctor or a specialist travel clinic to discuss your requirements, if possible at least eight weeks before you plan to travel as many immunisations require a longer pre-trip period to begin working.

In addition to the various vaccinations recommended above, it is important that travellers be properly protected against malaria. There is no vaccine against this mosquito-borne disease, but a variety of preventative drugs are available, including mefloquine, atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone) and the antibiotic doxycycline.

Malarone and doxycycline need only be started one to two days before entering STP, but mefloquine should be started two to three weeks before. Doxycycline and mefloquine need to be taken for four weeks after the trip and Malarone for seven days. It is just as important to complete the course as it is to take the malaria tablets before and during the trip. The most suitable choice of drug varies depending on the individual and the country you are visiting so visit your doctor or a specialist travel clinic for medical advice. 

A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available here. For other journey preparation information, consult Travel Health Pro or CDC: Traveller’s Health.

Safety

Generally, São Tomé and Príncipe is a very safe place indeed for travellers. There is very little violent crime, and armed robberies and rapes are rare still. Where else in Africa can you walk around the streets of the capital at practically any time of the day or night, the only danger a raspy throat from answering so many questions? Não temos fronteira, you’ll hear as an explanation, we have no border – nobody can just jump on to the next plane to immunity.

There has, however, been a rise in petty crime. Stealing telemóvels (mobile phones) has become common. Getting mugged for a mobile phone used to be unknown, but there have been occurrences, especially targeting foreign women. Don’t leave phones unattended for an opportunist thief to take advantage.

Clubs and beaches are the most common place for this to happen; a beach that looks completely deserted to you may not be. Lock your valuables in the car and if you don’t have one, carry your money/mobile phone in a waterproof pouch (available from outdoor shops back home, not on the islands) that you can sling over your neck and take into the water. Other possibilities might be to pay trusted locals a few dobras to look after your things, or to hide them under palm leaves or suchlike. 

Women travellers

STP remains a very safe country compared with the mainland, though women travellers should prepare for gentle harassment, hissing and hailing in the street. Further, women should be careful on their own on beaches, especially close to towns, and wild camping is not recommended – tourists were assaulted overnight in 2019 when camping in their car on the beach.

Exercise the usual caution in an unfamiliar place and be aware that a white woman, especially, on her own is seen as a potential adventure, trophy, or even a potential second or third mulher (woman). A friendly chat, a dance, or a desire to learn about the country and its culture is easily misconstrued as romantic interest. All of a sudden, you’re being beckoned to follow this guy so you can ‘get to know each other better’.

Expect to be repeatedly asked the following: whether you are travelling on your own (sozinha), where you are staying (onde estás hospedada?), whether you have a boyfriend (namorado) or a husband (marido; to be married is casada) and where the boyfriend or husband is, plus how many children (filhos) you have. Santomean men like to tell women travellers without children that they must at least have one – and offer to put you out of your misery! 

Travellers with a disability

Santomean law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities (of all types), but there is no legal requirement ensuring disabled access to buildings or services (except for schools), and as such these types of facilities are extremely rare. Bearing in mind the above, it is a small country with few tall buildings and remarkably helpful people, so depending on your abilities, travel may still be possible with advance planning. 

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