Health is Part of Being a Responsible Traveller

Responsible Tourism

I, like lots of you reading this, travel a lot, it's part of what I do as a wilderness medic. When I'm up a mountain or following a river in a rain forest, it's looking after the rest of the expedition, film crew or even school trip, that pays my bills. But my job doesn't end there. It's also part of my task to make sure we don't bring a disease with us to an area of the world that is free of it. Imagine being the explorers who finally discovered a long lost tribe in the jungles of South America. But you're not remembered for this, you're famous because you and your expedition are the guys that killed them all by giving them a common cold. Not very good for your future funding or the poor tribe who is now extinct. Not very responsible you might say. When we think about Responsible Tourism, promoting respect for the cultures and the environment of our destination country come to mind. Health on the other hand, is the other component that is not often talked about.
The following has been taken from the IAMAT Blog (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers. You can find their Home Page Here. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them for allowing me to use their blog and also wish them a Happy 50th Birthday.

Learning about the cultures, regional geography, languages, and customs is key to being a responsible traveler, as is informing yourself about the potential health risks at your destination. While we have the means to protect our health, we also need to be mindful of how our health status impacts the people we come across during our travels. Getting immunized against vaccine preventable diseases is not only for your benefit, but also for the locals you encounter abroad. At home you may not consider vaccination for yourself, but as a traveller, even if you are healthy, you risk being a conduit for infectious diseases.

Diseases that are considered eradicated or rare in our part of the world (polio, mumps, measles, meningococcal meningitis, yellow fever), are a serious concern for local populations where there are low vaccination rates and different immunity patterns. At home you may not be exposed to diseases because people around you are vaccinated (herd effect), but abroad - if you are not immunized - you risk catching an infection without exhibiting symptoms right away and unwittingly pass it on to someone who is not immune. Not to mention that if you do get sick, you also put a strain on already taxed local healthcare systems.

The recent H1N1 outbreak clearly showed us how infectious diseases leap from continent to continent in a matter of hours, not months or weeks or days. As travelers, we have the potential to bring over infections to places where there was little or no previous concern and we also bring them back with us, adding stress to our own medical system.

Like other infectious diseases, the spread of H1N1 also showed us how poverty plays a major role in health. Persons living in crowded conditions are more susceptible to contracting infections and fighting diseases is harder if you have little or no access to healthcare.

Judging on a recent poll by the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA), many of us still have a long way to go to becoming responsible travelers. According to the survey of frequent travelers, 73% said that they would fly even if they had the flu. A similar survey done by TripAdvisor last Fall also found that 51% of respondents said they would fly with the flu to avoid the ticket change fee (getting trip cancellation insurance or checking the fine print of your airline's policy for reimbursements on flu and major illnesses may be part of the solution).

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are especially linked to travel. You've heard this before, but avoid unprotected sexual contact. If you are going to have sex with a stranger, use latex or polyurethane condoms consistently and correctly. Bring your own condoms from home. The spread of STIs, including HIV, is in part due to the proliferation of sex trafficking and sexual tourism.

As travelers, we not only have the responsibility to help prevent the spread of diseases, but we should also be aware of the health of tourism industry employees who take care of us. Too often, workers deal with poor and unsafe working conditions, long hours, and poor wages. For example, trail guides may face frost bite in cold environments, scuba diver instructors may get decompression sickness, and hotel room cleaners work long hours, often with no benefits. These conditions may put their health at risk and we can look out for them by encouraging them to seek medical attention.

The International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM) publishes 7 Tips For the Responsible Traveler Below are other groups promoting responsible and sustainable tourism.

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