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Dominica - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson
There are no immunisation requirements for visitors to Dominica except proof of vaccination against yellow fever for those over one year of age if coming from a yellow fever endemic area (eg: certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South America) or anyone transiting for more than 12 hours in a yellow fever endemic area. If the vaccine has been deemed unsuitable for you, travellers should obtain an exemption certificate from a registered yellow fever centre (eg: some GPs and most travel clinics). If you are unsure whether this applies to you, then check with a doctor ideally before you leave home and at least ten days before entering Dominica. There is no endemic malaria but there are other mosquitoborne diseases to avoid, including dengue fever and zika virus. Dominica’s water is safe to drink though travellers who have particularly sensitive stomachs may wish to consider bottled water as an alternative. Even if the water is clean the different mineral content can lead to an upset stomach. It is recommended that standard vaccinations such as tetanus are up to date. These days tetanus is combined with diphtheria and polio in an all-in-one vaccine (Revaxis), which lasts for ten years. Travellers should also consider protecting themselves from hepatitis A.
Visitors requiring health care on Dominica are required to pay up front for treatment. Medical insurance is strongly recommended, particularly if participating in activities such as hiking or scuba diving. Ensure that your policy covers you for the activities you wish to enjoy. Vaccination against hepatitis B is recommended for long stays, for those working with children, or in a medical setting. Carriage of the virus in the local population is estimated at 2–10%. The course comprises three doses of vaccine given over a minimum of 21 days if time is short for those aged 16 or over. For those under 16 the minimum time to complete three doses is two months. Both these schedules require a booster dose in one year to give longer-lasting protection. Wherever possible the longer course of 0, 1, and 6 months is preferred for more sustained protection.
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.
Dominica is a relatively safe country for visitors but you should not take anything for granted. Precautions here are no different from those you would take anywhere else in the world. It is usually safe to walk around, both by day and by night but there have been occasional incidents of late-night muggings by youths in Roseau. Avoid walking alone at night-time in the capital if you can. Generally speaking, Dominicans are sensitive to issues concerning tourists and recognise that unpleasant experiences will inevitably affect everyone in the long run. But that doesn’t prevent it from happening, of course. There are relatively few incidents of visitors experiencing crime, particularly violent crime, but it does happen and it is not always reported in the news; fear of bad publicity for the island occasionally trumps the truth, sadly. Travellers should take common-sense precautions such as dressing conservatively, avoiding conflict and not flaunting wealth openly. If approached by people asking for money (and this is very likely to happen in the capital), either give them a few dollars, or politely decline and walk on. Do not lose your temper or decide to give someone a lecture. It is simply not worth it and it will ruin your day. It is not uncommon for Dominicans themselves to admonish people they see asking visitors for money. If you do find yourself in a threatening situation, your focus should be on getting through it as peacefully as possible and not fighting back or getting into an argument. Smile lots.
There have been occasional incidents of violent robbery and attack on some of the northern beaches. Despite this sort of incident being rare, go to Batibou Beach, Woodford Hill Beach and Hodges Bay in groups or on weekends when there are plenty of locals also out enjoying themselves. Avoid evenings. And finally, L’Escalier Tete Chien has a poor reputation for the hassle visitors receive from the drinkers who hang out at the bar above the trail.
Without doubt the riskiest part of any visit to Dominica is when driving. Some of the roads are challenging, oft en narrow with pot-holes, deep drainage gutters and sharp corners but it is Dominican driving practices that present the greatest potential hazard. There appears to be no happy medium when it comes to the way local people drive and you should simply expect the unexpected.
Inevitably as a visitor you will attract attention – whatever your gender or age. This attention should not, however, be misinterpreted as a threat. Dominica is a safe place and most people are either just curious, perhaps looking for a conversation or friendship, or interested in trying to make a few dollars. Try to relax and always be polite, even if you are not really in the mood for it.
Women travellers are likely to be more vulnerable to unwanted attention than men, but you should not let this spoil your experience nor prevent you from exploring and enjoying the island. The best advice, as always, is to use common sense. If you can, try to avoid going to remote places alone, both by day and by night, try to dress as conservatively as your taste in fashion will allow, and do not bathe topless. Consider carrying a flashlight at night and trying to blend in as much as you can. Wearing similar clothing to local people is one way of doing this, as is not wearing nor flaunting ostentatious jewellery. If you do attract unwanted attention from amorous men, be as polite and good humoured as possible in the way you express your wish to be left alone. Try to extract yourself as quickly from the situation as you can – the longer you converse, the harder it is to leave. Avoid conflict, resist becoming angry and do not try to humiliate or belittle those you feel are harassing you. Some recommend wearing dark sunglasses as this helps you avoid eye contact and may also enhance your confidence.
Travellers with a disability
Dominica is not very disabled-traveller friendly. There are few provisions at hotels though some have ground floor rooms and a couple also have elevators. Cottage style accommodation is also an option worth considering as many are fairly obstacle free.
Roseau, however, is a nightmare if you are in a wheelchair. Most footpaths are narrow and very uneven, often with drops, steps, gratings, potholes, vendors or parked cars to negotiate your way around. The road is your only option and then you have vehicular traffic to deal with. Most banks and ATMs are accessible.
Private minibus or taxi tours may be the most comfortable way for you to experience Dominica. Your hotel may also be able to arrange something specific to your needs. Accessible sights include: the Botanical Gardens,some areas of the Kalinago Barana Aute, Touna Aute, beaches such as Purple Turtle, Mero, Woodford Hill, and if you are interested in a hot sulphur bath, Tia’s has a very accessible and private pool, close to the entrance. The Rainforest Aerial Tram may also be an enjoyable option. A good time to visit may be during Creole and Independence festivities in October when you can enjoy traditional dancing, steel pan, music and food at reasonably accessible village, town and park venues.
The Roman Catholic Church is by far the predominant religion on the island and so majority views on homosexuality are in accord with traditional (rather than some of the more modern) Church doctrine. Dominica’s homosexuals are essentially a silent community, forced to maintain a low profile and unable to express their sexuality openly without prejudice.
However you choose to deal with this is your choice, of course. But you should be aware that overt displays of your sexuality will certainly draw attention, and it will always be unpredictable and possibly confrontational in nature.