Malaria, yellow fever and meningococcal disease – there are a lot of health issues to be aware of when travelling to Tanzania. Naturally what vaccinations and medications you’re going to need is individual and will vary greatly depending on your origin and destination. Always make sure to consult with your doctor about what’s right for you. This blog post is from a Finnish person’s perspective and just an example to help give and idea of what you might need to think about regarding both your health and budget. Vaccinations aren’t always cheap and in this blog post you’ll find out just how much I spent on health-related stuff before even setting foot in Tanzania.
Most Expensive Preparations Ever
I’ve travelled to numerous countries all over the world. Never have I ever had to go through such extensive preparations and spend such insane amounts of money on my health even before setting foot in a country as with my trip to Tanzania.
And it should be stated that Finland does have a pretty comprehensive national vaccination program, so I’d say compared to many other nationalities Finnish people are quite well prepared in general.
Although it’s probably a lot more likely to get a cold or diarrhoea there is quite a wide selection of tropical diseases in Tanzania. Do whatever preparations your doctor recommends. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Where You’re From, Where You’re Going and What Type of Travel Is Key
Where you’ll be travelling is what will determine what kind of medicines you’ll need to bring with you and what vaccinations your doctor will tell you to take.
As our trip was of the more extreme sort, with both safaris as well as backpacking in rural areas, this required some more extensive preparations health-wise.
And of course, where you’re from makes a huge difference. Coming from Finland I guess we couldn’t be further away from for example the malaria zone and naturally we have zero immunity against many local parasites and diseases that for example Tanzanians might be immune to.
Here’s where we travelled:
- Lake Manyara
- Mafia Island
- Dar es Salaam
During our trip we stayed in tents, in bungalows and hostels (even a convent at one point). Our accommodation ranged from very basic and budget-friendly to luxurious glamping and everything in between. All of this of course had an impact on what we had to prepare for.
To summarise, what you’ll be required to get regarding medications and vaccinations depends on:
- Where you’re from
- What vaccinations you already have
- Where exactly you’ll be travelling
- How you’re travelling – five-star luxury or backpacking
In addition to this your current health status might also be relevant. For example if you’re pregnant or suffer from any illnesses the recommendations might be different to those I got.
These Are the Vaccinations I Had to Get
Here’s a list of the vaccinations I had to take. I have quite an comprehensive coverage from before: in addition to all the regular vaccinations we get via the national Finnish vaccination program I also have several other vaccinations, among others I’m vaccinated against hepatitis A.
In preparation for Tanzania I got vaccinated against the following:
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow fever
- Meningococcal disease
- Typhoid fever
Malaria – What it is and How to Avoid it
Malaria is a common disease in Tanzania. Anyone travelling to or living in Tanzania is at risk of getting malaria. Malaria is endemic throughout most of the country, but the risk of getting malaria is relatively low on Zanzibar. The chances of getting malaria if you’re only travelling to high altitudes over 2000 meters above sea level are also low.
Malaria is no joke. It’s a potentially deadly disease. That’s why it’s super important to make sure you take preventative measures if travelling to Tanzania. This means some kind of antimalarial medication as well as avoiding bites for example by using insect repellent.
In Finland I was offered the choice between two different types of antimalarial medications: Lariam and Malarone. The first one is cheaper but includes side effects like anxiety, nightmares and insomnia. As I’m already prone to those I decided I’d rather pay more and go with Malarone to avoid the previously mentioned side effects.
Symptoms of Malaria
No antimalarial medicine gives you complete immunity against malaria. This means even though you’re eating antimalarial pills you might still get malaria. So it’s important to be aware of the first symptoms and seek medical help immediately if any symptoms arise. These include headaches, fever, aches and other flu-like symptoms as well as diarrhoea and abdominal pain. After this, malaria progresses to the next stage, with reduced consciousness, coma and potentially even death.
Like I said, it’s no joke. But as long as you take preventative measures and do your best to avoid bites, you’ll most likely be just fine.
Vaccinations and Medications For Tanzania – How Much Does it Cost?
Here are the exact costs of the vaccinations and medications I got. All of these prices are just to give you an idea. Prices vary greatly from country to country. In case you don’t have public health service in your country there might be additional cost for doctor’s appointments as well. So again, this is just to give you an example.
As an EU citizen I was able to get my antimalarial pills from Estonia. They were almost half the price and considering the fact that the malaria pills were by far the single most expensive health related cost for this trip I saved a lot of money.
- Engerix- B against hepatitis B: Three doses à 55, 50 euros each
- Stamaril against yellow fever: 59 euros
- Menveo against meningococcal disease: 60 euros
- Dukoral against cholera: 69 euros
- Vivotif against typhoid fever: 38 euros
- Malarone against malaria: 4 packs of 12 pills à 25 euros each
Total cost for vaccinations and anti-malarial pills: 492, 50 euros
In addition to this I invested another around 100 euros on other health related items and anti-mosquito products.
Total cost for all health-related preparations: around 600 euros
Other Health Issues and Medicines to Pack
Anti-malarial medication is not enough
Expensive as it may be, the malaria medicine is not fool proof. In addition to popping pills every day you’re staying in a malaria region (in my case more or less the whole duration of my over one-month-long trip), you’ll have to protect yourself against mosquitoes.
A good insect repellent is important to bring along and you should also do your best to cover up, especially during dusk, dawn and night-time when the malaria-spreading mosquitoes are most active.
Make sure your accommodation has mosquito nets over the bed or at least the windows and spray your room with bug spray before going to bed. Fancier accommodation will usually provide each room with a bug spray for this purpose, but for budget travellers you can buy sprays in most areas (I even saw special bug spray shops specialising only on these products). We bought ours at a supermarket in Dar es Salaam. It cost 24.000 shillings (around 9, 45 euros) and was also effective for all kinds of other unwanted guests like cockroaches, spiders, ants and grasshoppers. Yes, we still had bugs, but probably less than without any spray.
There are also special clothes that claim to be mosquito repelling. I brought two ridiculously expensive anti-mosquito socks, as the ankles are one of the areas the mosquitoes target. I’m not really sure they worked though; at least the tsetse flies just seemed to laugh at them before biting through them.
Hand Hygiene and First Aid Kits
In case you’re travelling to rural areas where you’re not sure you’ll find a local pharmacy or doctors it might be a good idea to pack some medicine for a potential stomach bug (like Imodium), some anti-inflammatory pain killers and to bring some kind of a basic first-aid kit. Make sure the latter includes some kind of an antiseptic product, bandage, band-aids and some clean cotton pads or similar.
The tropical climate means you’ll have to take extra care in case you get cuts or scrapes. Make sure to keep any wound or scrape, no matter how minuscule, clean. I scratched open a mosquito bite, just barely, but it got very infected and was really bad for several weeks. So even the smallest insect bite can get bad if not treated correctly.
Make sure you bring hand sanitizer as well and use it regularly in addition to always washing your hands with soap whenever possible.
You’ll also need to bring any other medications you might need with you, don’t count on getting them in Tanzania (at least not in rural areas). For me this meant stocking up on enough migraine medicines.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Last but not least. No amount of preparations, no matter how extensive, will prepare you for everything.
I would never travel without travel insurance. Especially not to areas I know are located a considerable distance from hospitals. In case something were to happen costs for transportations alone could be enough to bankrupt you.
In the end, investing in a good travel insurance is a small price to pay to make sure you can afford to get the help you need in case worse comes to worse.
Is it worth it?
Expensive medicines and vaccinations, tropical diseases lurking behind every corner – have I gotten you reconsidering travelling to Tanzania? I hope not! The purpose of this blog post has definitely not been to discourage anyone from travelling to this wonderful country.
For me personally, the cost of vaccinations and medicines came as a shock and I had not budgeted for them. This is why I wanted to write an honest and open blog post with the exact costs and what you should know whilst planning so you can avoid the mistake I made.
Expensive as the preparations were, I think they were worth every cent. It’s not mandatory to do what your doctor says, but for me personally I’d rather invest in preventative measures than be sorry later. Once in Tanzania, there were so many fantastic moments I completely forgot about the money spent – magical safari moments made sure it seemed 100 percent worth it.
Here’s what you’ll need to think about regarding health before travelling to Tanzania in a nutshell:
- What vaccinations do you already have and which additional ones do you need (always consult with a doctor)?
- Where exactly are you travelling and what kind of a trip will it be: five-star luxury might not require the same precautions as budget backpacking in rural less developed areas.
- How is your health? What kind of medications do you need regularly and what do you need to bring with you?
- A first aid kit should be on your list of items to pack if you’re travelling to rural areas, hiking or staying in areas that are far from the nearest hospital.
- Do what you can to avoid getting malaria: even though it’s expensive, don’t skip taking antimalarial medication and make sure to avoid bites as well as you can. Don’t forget insect repellent and bug spray.
- Make sure you have travel insurance.
- Be prepared that these preparations come at a price. Vaccinations and anti-malarial pills alone cost me almost 500 euros.
- In addition to this I put in another 100 euros or so for insect repellent, anti-mosquito socks and other medicines I needed to take with me.
- Remember to start preparations way ahead of your trip as you need to take several doses of some of the vaccinations. See your doctor 2-3 months before your trip to be sure you’ll have enough time.