Medical services in Namibia are of a very high standard. However, the availability of most services is restricted to the main towns.
Emergencies and accidents that occur in remote areas do attract a high cost when transport to the main towns is required. Host establishments should be able to organize these services when requested.
There are no mandatory vaccinations for travellers from Europe. If you arrive from a country where yellow fever vaccinations are mandatory you need to produce proof that you have been vaccinated. Take the usual precautions: ask your doctor whether you should renew your vaccinations against polio, diphtheria and tetanus. S/he might also advise to take precautions against Hepatitis A and B. Unfortunately there is no vaccination against malaria.
Malaria remains one of the most feared illnesses world-wide. In southern Africa Malaria is second to HIV/Aids in causing illness and death. In Namibia, however, this applies primarily to the local population in the northern parts of the country, as protection becomes too expensive in the long term. Holidaymakers can protect themselves efficiently. Please note that the following information is not intended to replace an individual consultation with a doctor or pharmacist!
Malaria is transmitted through the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito which carries the pathogen in it because it has previously bitten a person already infected with malaria. This means that if there are no mosquitoes there is no malaria either. Do note, however, that where there are mosquitoes there is not necessarily malaria. Since Namibia does not have much stagnant water the risk of contracting malaria is minimal in most parts of the country, or limited to a specific time of the year.
- High-risk areas are the river meadows in the north, north-west and northeast. If this is where you will travel, you are advised to take precautions at any time of the year.
- Kaokoveld, the Etosha National Park, the Otavi Mountains and the east including Bushmanland are areas of medium risk. Precautions are strongly recommended during the rainy season (November to April).
- The risk is small in the area between Otjiwarongo and Windhoek. This does not mean, however, that you should not use mosquito repellent.
- The coast, the Namib Desert and the south are regarded as almost risk-free.
The characteristic symptoms of malaria are similar to those of diarrhoea or flu: high fever with shivering fits, headache and aching limbs, severe sweating and dizziness. Malaria can cetainly be treated if recognised early; without treatment it can become life-threatening. Incubation for the disease is four to six weeks. Should you experience cold-like symptoms during this period you see a doctor immediately and inform them that you have been to a malaria area!
Although there is no vaccine against malaria, several prophylactic medicines are available, including homeopathic ones. Ask your doctor or one of the many institutes for tropical diseases for advice. In most European countries malaria prophylaxis is available on prescription only. In Namibia it is sold over the counter and it often costs less than overseas. Doctors and pharmacists in Namibia can also advise you on which prophylactic to choose. Usually you need to start taking the tablets one week before you travel to a malaria area and continue for four weeks afterwards. Unfortunately there is no protection on which you can rely 100%.
Should you notice any of the symptoms despite taking prophylaxis, you should still see a doctor without delay. However, due to the prophylaxis the test may show positive even if you only suffer from a cold and you might be treated for malaria without having the illness. In addition, malaria tablets are known to cause nausea, illusions and upset stomachs. With this in mind, many people discard the prophylaxis and rely on the most effective protection – avoid mosquito bites!
How you keep mosquitoes at a distance:
- Put on repellent, especially in the evening, at night and in the morning. Effective repellents like ‘Peaceful Sleep’ and ‘Tabard’ are widely available in Namibia.
- At dusk and during the night wear clothes which cover arms and legs and choose light colours.
- Use insect sprays or repellent incense sticks and spirals in your room. These are available in supermarkets and pharmacies.
- Sleep under a mosquito net which is usually fixed above your bed if you are in a high-risk area.
- If you sleep in a tent, make sure that the flap and windows are fitted with mosquito gauze.
- If you need a mosquito net, purchase one. They are available at most NamPost branches and safari outfitters, and they are sold directly by ‘Mossi Nets’ in Otavi (P.O. Box 163, Otavi, Tel and Fax +264 (0)67 234011, additional Fax 242899).
Snakes & Scorpions
Just to put you at ease: most visitors never see a snake or scorpion during their stay in Namibia. In any event, about 75% of Namibia’s snakes are not poisonous. Most snakes beat a hasty retreat when humans approach and therefore are never spotted – they pick up the tremors caused by footsteps. The lazy puff adder may become dangerous, as it is not able to disappear fast enough and you might unwittingly get too close. When walking in the ‘wilds’ you should always wear sturdy shoes, preferably covering the ankle. Watch your step and listen to sounds – snakes usually warn you before they attack. Refrain from picking up or turning pieces of rock, and do not put your hand into holes in the ground or into rock crevices, as these are favourite hiding places for snakes and scorpions. Always carry a torch in the dark. When camping, zip your tent completely and shake out your shoes before putting them on in the morning.
Bilharzia is transmitted by microscopic worms. They occur only in stagnant water in some places in the north-eastern Kavango Region and in the Kwando-Linyanti-System.
Sleeping Sickness is transmitted by the Tsetse Fly which resembles a horsefly. This sickness occasionally occurs in the Caprivi.
Rabies can be transmitted by all warm-blooded animals. Be careful if untamed wild animals (like ground squirrels) behave very friendly!
Tick Fever / Meningitis is transmitted by ticks. Visitors usually encounter them only when in close contact with cattle, game or dogs or when spending time in sandy riverbeds. Both illnesses occur very seldom.