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Uganda - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson. For up-to-date information on health issues across Africa, click here.
Uganda, like most parts of Africa, is home to several tropical diseases unfamiliar to people living in more temperate and sanitary climates. However, with adequate preparation, and a sensible attitude to malaria prevention, the chances of serious mishap are small. To put this in perspective, your greatest concern after malaria should not be the combined exotica of venomous snakes, stampeding wildlife, gun-happy soldiers or the Ebola virus, but something altogether more mundane: a road accident. Road accidents are common in Uganda 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. Listen to local advice about areas where violent crime is rife too.
Preparations to ensure a healthy trip to Uganda require checks on your immunisation status: it is wise to be up to date on tetanus, polio, diphtheria (now given as an all-in-one vaccine, Revaxis, that lasts for ten years), and hepatitis A. Immunisations against meningitis, typhoid, hepatitis B, TB and rabies may also be recommended.
The situation with yellow fever vaccination changes regularly, but as things stand you must produce an international health certificate showing you’ve had a vaccination when you enter Uganda or upload it when you apply for an e-visa. Proof of vaccination against yellow fever is also needed for entry into Uganda if you are coming from another yellow fever endemic area. If the vaccine is not suitable for you, discuss your options with a travel health expert. If you intend to visit Uganda regardless, and there is a requirement for a yellow fever certificate on entry, then obtain an exemption certificate from your GP or a travel clinic.
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.
Uganda has been an acceptably safe travel destination since Museveni took power in 1986. The only region that subsequently experienced long-term instability is the north, which was practically off-limits to travel prior to 2007 due to a rebellion led by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The north is now widely regarded as safe for travel, though government security advisories still apply to the northeast because of banditry related to Karamojong cattle rustlers. Elsewhere, Kampala, like most cities around the world, is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, as demonstrated in 2010 when 74 people were killed in twin blasts at two venues showing World Cup matches on television. The only part of Uganda that has suffered from long-term internal instability lies north of Murchison Falls, in an area that traditionally sees few tourists and lacks for any compelling attractions. Despite that, however, the most significant threat to life and limb in Uganda comes not from banditry or terrorism, but rather from the malaria parasite and car or boat accidents.
Violence associated with the DRC and Rwanda occasionally spilt over into border regions of southwest Uganda between 1986 and the turn of the millennium. The most notorious incident was the killing of six tourists and two rangers abducted from Bwindi in 1999. A more sustained outbreak of violence was orchestrated by the somewhat mysterious Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a small and ‘rebel’ army – thought to consist solely of Congolese thugs – responsible for several brutal attacks in the Rwenzori border area in the late 1990s. The activities of the ADF forced the closure of Semliki and Rwenzori national parks in 1997, but there have been no incidents of concern since the two parks reopened in 1999 and 2002 respectively. Almost 20 years later, there seems little cause for serious concern in the southwest, and the authorities would be unlikely to allow tourists to visit reserves and national parks with a known security problem.
The decision to visit Uganda, and the responsibility, rests on the individual traveller. Assuming that you do, I would recommend you keep your ear to the ground, read the local newspaper, and avoid visiting known trouble spots – fortunately, the authorities are unlikely to allow tourists to visit reserves and national parks where there is a security problem.
Please check FCO Travel Advice for up to date guidance.
Uganda is widely and rightly regarded as one of the most crime-free countries in Africa, certainly as far as visitors need be concerned. Muggings are comparatively rare, even in Kampala, and I’ve never heard of the sort of con tricks that abound in places like Nairobi. Even petty theft such as pickpocketing and bag snatching is relatively unusual, though it does happen from time to time. Walking around large towns at night is also reputedly safe, though it would be tempting fate to wander alone along unlit streets. On the basis that it is preferable to err on the side of caution, a few tips that apply to travelling anywhere in East and southern Africa:
- Most casual thieves operate in busy markets and bus stations. Keep a close watch on your possessions in such places, and avoid having valuables or large amounts of money loose in your daypack or pocket.
Keep all your valuables and the bulk of your money in a moneybelt that can be hidden beneath your clothing. A belt made of cotton or another natural fabric
is most pleasant on the skin, but such fabrics tend to soak up sweat, so wrap everything inside in plastic. Never show this moneybelt in public, and keep any
spare cash you need elsewhere on your person.
Where the choice exists between carrying valuables on your person or leaving them in a locked room I would tend to favour the latter option (only one of the hundreds of thefts I’ve heard about in Africa happened from a locked hotel room, and that was in Nairobi where just about anything is possible). Obviously you should use your judgement on this and be sure the room is absolutely secure.
- Leave any jewellery of financial or sentimental value at home.
Women generally regard sub-equatorial Africa as one of the safest places in the world to travel alone. Uganda in particular poses few if any risks specific to female travellers. It is reasonable to expect a fair bit of flirting and the odd direct proposition, especially if you mingle with Ugandans in bars, but a firm ‘no’ should be enough to defuse any potential situation. And, to be fair to Ugandan men, you can expect the same sort of thing in any country, and for that matter from many male travellers.
Ugandan women tend to dress conservatively. It will not increase the amount of hassle you receive if you avoid wearing clothes that, however unfairly, may be perceived to be provocative, and it may even go some way to decreasing it. More mundanely, tampons are not readily available in smaller towns, though you can easily locate them in Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja, and in game lodge and hotel gift shops. When travelling in out-of-the-way places, carry enough tampons to see you through to the next time you’ll be in a large city, bearing in mind that travelling in the tropics can sometimes cause heavier or more irregular periods than normal. Sanitary pads are available in most towns of any size.
Gay and Lesbian Travellers
All homosexual activity is illegal in Uganda. This should provide a practical obstacle to gay and lesbian travellers visiting Uganda, provided they are willing to be discreet about their sexuality. Some, however, might well regard it to be an ethical stumbling block.