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Tajikistan - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson
Comprehensive travel insurance should be the first thing on your list when you contemplate travelling to Tajikistan. Choose a policy that includes medical evacuation (Medevac) and make sure you fully understand any restrictions: it is not uncommon for insurance companies to exclude certain activities (including mountaineering) from cover. Leave a copy of the policy documents at home with someone you trust, and keep a copy of your policy number and the emergency contact number on you at all times.
Tajikistan is classified as a high risk rabies country. Vaccination before travel is highly recommended as there is likely to be a shortage of the specific post exposure treatment needed in Tajikistan. Having three doses of the vaccine before travel over a minimum of 21 days but ideally 28 days simplifies the post exposure treatment and makes evacuation far less likely. Three doses of vaccine cost around £150 in the UK and last for at least 10 years unless you are planning to work as a vet abroad when boosters are recommended annually.
While pharmacies in Tajikistan are numerous, especially in the main cities, and some are well equipped, you should still pack a first-aid kit (a comprehensive kit is essential for trekkers and others visiting remote areas) and any prescription medicines you require.
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.
Trekkers should always ensure they are well prepared with adequate first-aid and equipment; pictured: trekkers in the Pamir Mountains © Tourist Development Centre (TDC), Tajikistan
In July and August 2012 foreigners were advised against all travel to GBAO and, in particular Khorog, following a security incident. Twenty-two British and Commonwealth nationals had to be evacuated from the area.
Dushanbe is considered relatively safe, but there have been occasional muggings and petty crime against foreigners. Instances of sexual assault, including rape, have been reported to consular staff, included suspected use of ‘date rape’ drugs. Take care not to leave drinks unattended, nor accept drinks from strangers.
There is a general threat of terrorism in Tajikistan, though foreigners are not currently thought to be a principal target. Recent incidents in Tajikistan include an explosion outside a restaurant in Dushanbe in March 2011, and the discovery of three abandoned vehicles containing improvised explosive devices in Sughd two months earlier.
You should exercise the usual personal safety precautions and dress modestly, especially in conservative rural areas. Particular caution should be taken when hailing taxis: in Dushanbe phoning for a cab, or getting the establishment you are in to do this for you, is a safer option.
Unaccompanied women may receive unwanted attention in bars and clubs but this is usually deflected with a few terse words. If the harassment continues, alert the management or leave the premises and find a more pleasant alternative. Try to avoid physical confrontation, as alcohol-fuelled violence and being tailed home are not uncommon. There have been suspected cases where ‘date rape’ drugs have been used; keep a close eye on your drink, and do not accept drinks from strangers.
Homosexuality has been decriminalised in Tajikistan but there is, to our knowledge, no gay scene in Dushanbe. Many people in Tajikistan are deeply conservative, especially when it comes to the issue of sexuality, and homosexuality is still often seen as a mental illness (a hangover from the Soviet period).
If you are travelling with a same-sex partner, you would be wise to refrain from public displays of affection and be cautious when discussing your relationship with others: it is often simplest to allow others to assume you are simply travelling with a friend. Double rooms frequently have twin beds, so asking for one room is unlikely to raise eyebrows in any case.