With Dr Felicity Nicholson
For up-to-date information on health issues across Africa, click here.
Before the inevitable terror inspired by reading the health section sets in, it should be made quite clear that healthcare options in Senegal are among, if not the best in West Africa. There are certain health issues inherent to tropical climates, but with reasonable precautions – i.e. malaria prophylaxis – your chances of a serious incident are minute. The cast of African bogeymen so often trotted out by jittery family and friends to dissuade you from your trip (or at least question your logic) are on the whole irrelevant in Senegal, if not entirely fictitious. The one imported case of Ebola was effectively dealt with in 2014, the military are admirably professional, and if you manage to see a predator in Niokolo-Koba National Park, consider yourself very lucky. As in much of Africa, road travel presents the greatest risk to life and limb you’re likely to face. Medical care in regional capitals is adequate, but for anything serious Dakar is very much the place to be. As with everything in Senegal, French is the operating language, but given the education required of doctors, it’s not unusual to find one who has studied some English as well. Doctor’s visits, lab fees, and malaria tests are all cheap – don’t hesitate to get checked out on the basis of cost.
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.
Aside from some of Dakar’s seedier districts and certain areas of the city by night (looking at you, Corniche!), with some common-sense precautions, the risk of being separated from your valuables, either by guile or by force, remains low in Dakar, lower still in the provincial capitals, and fleeting in smaller towns and villages throughout the country.
The usual rules all apply here: bus stations and crowded markets are a pickpocket’s best friend; keep your eyes open and valuables securely stashed. Money belts are a good idea, and so is keeping cash for daily transactions in a separate location so that you don’t have to dip into the money belt in public. A reserve of cash hidden in an unlikely part of your luggage (and checked on regularly) can also be a saviour if something were to happen to your money belt. If a hotel seems reasonably secure, I typically prefer to leave valuables in a locked room (better yet, a safe if they have one) than to carry them around town with me, though this is a judgement call and you should always use your discretion.
Whether they want them or not, women traveling alone in Senegal will certainly not find themselves lacking for new friendship opportunities. Foreigners are the centre of attention wherever they go, and lone women only more so; it is considered unusual for a woman to travel without the company of her husband, so when the assumption of singlehood is combined with stereotypes about the relative sexual liberation of Western women, unwanted advances can at times be overwhelming. While the attention is rarely dangerous or threatening in nature, it’s wise to have a plan to brush off solicitation of the romantic variety simply in order to streamline what will be a frequent shut-down process. Whether speaking with women or men, it is inadvisable to admit to being unmarried, and some female travellers will go so far as to wear a fake wedding ring in order to bolster their claims to being ‘taken’, which are usually respected (though not without requisite, good-natured teasing as to the superiority of Senegalese men over their Western counterparts). Even the most patient women will find it tempting to give in to their frustration at times, but this usually only ends with relentless taunting and bad blood; it’s better to respond icily to particularly aggressive suitors, which should eventually garner disinterest.
Travellers with disabilities
Given that some of Senegal’s major attractions are beaches and colonial architecture, there’s no shortage of obstacles here for people with limited mobility. Streets are potholed and sidewalks rare, lifts are few and far between, and there are quite simply few concessions made here for the disabled. Still, with some determination, flexibility and organisation, a rewarding visit could still be possible, but it will require a good deal of patience and a willingness to improvise.