Health and Safety in the Philippines
Before you go to the Philippines
Pack medications in their original, clearly labelled containers. A signed and dated letter from your physician describing your medical conditions and medications, including generic names, is also a good idea.
If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to have a physician’s letter stating their medical necessity. If you have a heart condition bring a copy of your ECG taken just prior to travelling.
If you happen to take any regular medication bring double your needs in case of loss or theft. In most Southeast Asian countries, excluding Singapore, you can buy many medications over the counter without a doctor’s prescription, but it can be difficult to find some of the newer drugs, particularly the latest antidepressant drugs, contraceptive pills and blood-pressure medications.
Even if you are fit and healthy, don’t travel without health insurance – accidents do happen. Declare any existing medical conditions you have – the insurance company will check if your problem is pre-existing and will not cover you if it is undeclared. You may require extra cover for adventure activities such as rock climbing. If your health insurance doesn’t cover you for medical expenses abroad, consider getting extra insurance. If you’re uninsured, emergency evacuation is expensive – bills of over US$100,000 are not uncommon.
Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures. (In many countries doctors expect payment to be made in cash.) Some policies offer lower and higher medical-expense options; the higher ones are chiefly for countries that have extremely high medical costs, such as the USA. You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation. Some policies ask you to call back (reverse charges) to a centre in your home country where an immediate assessment of your problem is made.
Specialised travel-medicine clinics are your best source of information; they stock all available vaccines and will be able to give specific recommendations for you and your trip. The doctors will take into account factors such as past vaccination history, the length of your trip, activities you may be undertaking and underlying medical conditions, such as pregnancy.
Most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, so visit a doctor four to eight weeks before departure. Ask your doctor for an International Certificate of Vaccination (otherwise known as the yellow booklet), which will list all the vaccinations you’ve received.
There’s no glossing over the fact that the Philippines has more than its share of dangers and annoyances. These range from the danger of kidnapping in the south of the country to the wide range of scams and rip-offs that await the unwary traveller in Manila.
Of course, it’s not just the outright dangers that can make travel unpleasant in various parts of the Philippines, it’s also the annoyances. Depending upon your sensibilities and values, you may find the overt prostitution scene quite disturbing, particularly if you are unlucky enough to see evidence of the Philippines’ bustling child prostitution industry (in places like Angeles).
It’s also worth pointing out that Manila itself can be extremely challenging for some travellers. The poverty, air and noise pollution, crowds and heavy traffic conditions are enough to make even the most seasoned traveller yearn for escape. Luckily, escape is usually no more than a quick bus or plane ride away.