Then there are illnesses spread by ticks and fleas, and blood born infections such as HIV and Hepatitis B. There are epidemics of vaccine preventable diseases, and lets not forget some of the nasties that infect skin and bones such as impetigo, scabies, ring-worm and yaws disease. Added to these are a whole range of parasites that may affect the gut, blood stream, or any organ of the body.
This is a daunting, and far from comprehensive account of illnesses I may be exposed to, but I think it's important to see it in perspective. Some illnesses, such as malaria are likely to hit me harder than they would hit Haitian adults, simply because I have never been exposed to them, whereas Haitians have built up some resistance.
However, I have the benefit of being well-nourished, with a strong immune system, and knowledge of the basic things I can do to protect my health.
- I am taking a comprehensive multi-vitamin and mineral supplement and will continue to do so while I am gone. This is "insurance", to help build up my stores for times when I might be unwell, especially with infections that break down red blood cells (there are many of those in Haiti).
- I will take a probiotic for two weeks before I leave, and for the first few weeks I am in Haiti. I will also have a stronger probiotic to use if I develop gut problems.
- I have been vaccinated against most of the illnesses I can be vaccinated for.
- I'll be taking simple precautions such as drinking treated water (even for brushing my teeth) and I will avoid iced-drinks, undercooked meats or unpasteurized dairy products. These steps will protect me from many diseases.
- Water for hand washing is sometimes in short supply, so I will pack latex gloves and plenty of hand-gel.
- The charity I will be working with advise that many parasites are picked up through the soles of the feet, so I'll be packing crocs and sandals.
- I will be sleeping under a treated mosquito net, and, for added protection against insect borne diseases, I will be dressing in long sleeves and trousers at night and I will use an oil spray which is famed for it's (incidental) properties as a mosquito repellent.
- I believe that God has given us many natural remedies, and so I wont be without my essential oils (lavender, chamomile, and tea-tree, for example).
- While I emphasise preventative measures, I am am mindful of the fact that antibiotics have their place. Thankfully, many antibiotics are readily available in Haiti and will treat a range of bacterial and protozoal infections. I will take a good broad spectrum antibiotic with me, for emergencies.
- I will also take painkillers, allergy medications and ointments to treat minor infections (these things are not widely available in Haiti.
- I will also have a comprehensive First Aid kit, with sterile needles for any injections or IV's I might need.
- I will be taking out comprehensive medical insurance, and as my manager (a christian lady) had pointed out, I need to make sure people are praying for me.