The Gambia

Stick

A brief introduction to the geography, climate, language and history of the Gambia

Staying Healthy in The Gambia

Eating LunchThis section is designed to provide you with information about healthcare during your stay in The Gambia—where and when to seek medical attention and procedures for medical emergencies as well as basic measures for self-treatment of minor ailments. You should be prepared for the downsides of Africa’s tropical climate and Gambia’s status as a developing country—mosquito-born diseases, inadequate health care facilities, questionable drinking water and less-than-pristine marketplaces are all a part of Gambian life. Given these conditions, it is wise to take some reasonable precautions to guard against illness and discomfort.


Prevention methods


Basic sanitation 

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before eating
  • Do not swim in any water except the ocean or chlorinated swimming pools. This includes lakes, ponds and rivers, including the Gambian River. 
  • Wear shoes or sandals at all times.
  • Dry yourself thoroughly after swimming/bathing
  • If having sexual relations, always use latex condoms.

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Food and drink

  • Bottled water is best for staying healthy, especially for the month after arriving. NEVER drink water from uncovered wells. Steer clear of ice, as it probably wasn’t made from purified water.
  • Peel or boil vegetables before eating. Always wash them well.
  • Beware of under-cooked meat
  • Get food from popular places—it is unlikely it would be so popular if the food makes people sick.
  • Avoid frozen food or food that has needed to be refrigerated—power outages are extremely common and thus render cooling devices unreliable. In the event of extended power outages, be sure to throw away food that has been sitting in your fridge.
  • Don’t buy food that isn’t looking fresh or looks otherwise of questionable quality.

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Mosquitoes and insects

  • Use mosquito nets at night.
  • Use bug repellent, especially in the evenings. Do not apply it to wounds or open skin. To apply it to the face, spray it on your hands and rub it on.
  • Spray your room with insect killer/repellent, available at local shops. (You must leave your room for about twenty minutes after spraying)

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Sun and heat

  • Wear sunscreen of at least a 30 SPF. Apply 20 minutes before exposure to sun, and reapply frequently, especially after swimming.
  • Try to rest or limit activity during the hottest part of the day (11:00 am to 3:00 pm).
  • Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothing.
  • Drink plenty of water. Avoid coffee, tea, and alcohol, which cause dehydration.
  • Seek shade

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Nutrition and exercise

  • Eat from all five food groups: bread/cereals (taapa laapa,rice); fruit (oranges, bananas, mangos, grapefruits); vegetables (cabbage, eggplants, bitter tomato, onions, lettuce); dairy (chacori, Vitalait); protein (eggs, chicken, fish).
  • Consider taking multi-vitamins. Exercise! Independence Stadium provides many venues for getting a healthy workout.

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Animals

  • Stay away from stray animals you see in the street.
  • Steer clear of jellyfish, stingrays, and unfamiliar marine creatures.

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When to seek health care

Most non-severe symptoms or medical problems can be self-treated with common sense and the contents of your first aid kit. Resting in a comfortable place and drinking plenty of fluids is a good start to battling most minor ailments—see “Self-Care” below for specifics. You should see a doctor for illnesses lasting more than a day or two if you seen no signs of improvement with basic self-care, or if you suspect you have any of the illness listed under “Serious Ailments/Illnesses.” If you ever develop a fever, you should make an appointment to be tested with for malaria—there is still a chance of contracting it even if you are taking your prevention pills.

Gambians go to pharmacies for medicine and free advice when they cannot afford a doctor. Pharmacists are fairly reliable sources to diagnose common ailments, but always keep in mind that they have had no formal training in medical school. If you are in any doubt about your condition, it is best to see a doctor.

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Where to seek health care

Several doctors in The Gambia are allowed by S.O.S. medical insurance, which is included in the cost of the program (see “Insurance/payment” below. Though the insurance company endorsements aren’t monetarily important if your visit is less than the $100 deductible, note that the doctors approved by S.O.S. are probably the best in the nation.

One highly recommended doctor is Dr. Alassane Njie (known as the “short Njie,” as his taller brother shares the practice). He has two clinics, one in Banjul and one in London Corner, a neighbourhood located in Serekunda. Momodou Musa Memorial Clinic in Serekunda (number 97 on the “Bakau to Serekunda area” map) is closest to the Bakau area. If you go there, you will probably want to take a town trip, as it is quite a walk from the market. Foday Darboe, a private driver, knows exactly where the office is, so it would be a good idea to give him a call at 9913865. The number for Dr. Njie’s office in Serekunda is 224320; in Banjul, 224320; and at home, 371972.

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Emergencies

Unlike the United States, The Gambia has no emergency response system or ambulance service. If one of your colleagues is involved in accident or receives injuries requiring emergency care, it is up to you and/or knowledgeable bystanders to find a means to transport them to a place they can receive medical assistance. A taxi may be the only means available for transportation. If you don’t know the closest facility to which you should transport the injured individual, you must call the U.S. Embassy at 4391971. The nearest S.O.S. Alarm Center at 44 (0)20 8762 8008 can also provide you with a list of places upon request (though as it is in London, this will not be a local call).

Though these instructions may seem vague compared to calling 911, you must realize that this is one of the difficulties of studying in a developing country. In all emergency situations, it is essential to remain calm and use common sense. If you do not know what to do, call someone who does. The best thing you can do is to get the injured person to the nearest clinic. After you have done so, call the nearest S.O.S. Alarm Center. If the clinic is adequate, S.O.S. will monitor care and evaluate treatment and medication that is being given. If the clinic is not adequate, S.O.S. will provide medical evacuation to the nearest facility capable of providing the required care

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Insurance/Payments

S.O.S. insurance (included in the program cost) only covers medical expenses over the $100 deductible (i.e. if your medical bills add up to less than $100 collectively during your stay in The Gambia, the money will have to come out of your own pocket.) Medical care in The Gambia is inexpensive by American standards, so it is unlikely your expenses will go above the deductible unless you contract a very serious illness or substantial injury. However, if you do exceed the deductible, you must call the nearest S.O.S. Alarm Center so they can evaluate the adequacy of your medical care. From $100 to $5,000 worth of medical care, S.O.S. insurance will pay 80% of the bill; from more than $5,000 to $45,000, S.O.S. will pay 100%.

It is important to note that S.O.S. insurance operates through reimbursement—you must personally pay your medical bills and apply for reimbursement after the matter. If you are short on funds, you should contact the resident coordinator and/or program director for advice and assistance.

For reimbursement upon returning, consult the blue S.O.S. brochure entitled “Description of Coverage,” under the section “Payment of Claims.” If breaching the $100 deductible, it is imperative that you receive a receipt of amount paid so you can send it to the insurance company as proof of payment. If you are in an accident or episode involving another party, you must report the incident to the police so they can make a police report—insurance will also required information regarding this formal statement.

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Self-care guide

This part of the Healthcare section is meant to help you diagnose and treat non-serious ailments and injuries using basic first aid. It is very important not to rely entirely on this guide for more serious healthcare needs—see a doctor if you have any doubts or questions about your condition. Some sections are taken directly from the SMCM Health Services website and others from Mayo Clinic’s First Aid Guide. Information from some sections is taken from Lonely Planet Healthy Travel Africa, by Isabelle Young

Click here for self-guided care information

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Serious ailments/illnesses

If you suspect you have a more serious conditions, you should seek medical help immediately. For a list of the rarer ailments / illnesses and their symptoms, click here.

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