To have a fulfilling experience it is vital to enjoy good health during your volunteer service. The first thing you should do as a prospective volunteer is to ask the organization you’ve chosen about health considerations and preparations particular to your posted location because they will have the unique history and knowledge of health issues for that locale. Using the organization’s information, you should have a discussion about it with your physician as well as a physical check-up. Any prescriptions that you already take or which you may need due to climatic and geographical considerations should be part of the discussion. The physician should be aware of how long you’ll be away in order to prescribe the correct quantities that you will need. If the volunteer organization does not provide a first-aid kit, you can ask your physician what a recommended kit should contain. The publications mentioned in the reference information section of this website also have recommended lists of first-aid supplies.
While at the program site using some very basic precautions can go a long way toward keeping you healthy. First and foremost, be careful what you drink. Contaminated water is one of the most common causes of illness on volunteer missions. Remember that ice can be made with contaminated water. On this issue you first need to follow the advice and instructions of the organization you are working for. They are aware of the water and sanitation issues at your location. Some common sense advice is always drink purified water. If you cannot buy purified water then purchase water purification tablets and water filter systems at camping and outdoor suppliers, or bring the local water to a boil for 20 minutes. Drinking bottled beverages is generally safe.
Another very important health consideration is to avoid eating uncooked food including vegetables and salads. Vegetables and salads, if not washed properly, may carry bacteria that can cause very uncomfortable and serious illnesses. Use the information from your organization’s cadre as a guideline.
There are times at home and abroad when, no matter what precautions we take, we get sick. It happens to all of us and may happen to you. Should it happen, follow the medical advice given by the doctors and other medical health professionals who are recommended by your volunteer organization or your embassy.
Important websites that should be visited are:
- Center for Disease Control – http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel
- U.S. State Department – https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/go/older-traveler.html
- British Government – http://www.fco.gov.uk
- Australian Government – http://www.smartraveller.gov.au
- International Association of Medical Assistance to Travelers – http://www.iamat.org
- International Society of Travel Medicine – http://www.istm.org