If there is anything positive about living in rural Tanzania, it is the low price and availability of medicine. Even in the most remote village, there tends to be one pharmacy that sells everything from Band-Aids to tablets that treats malaria. With many generics that cost no more than a few USD for something that would cost many times more elsewhere, it makes sense for price-conscious foreigners to purchase medicines in rural Africa rather than in their home countries. What if one falls ill? In market towns across the country, district- and regional-level hospitals exist to provide basic treatments.
While hospital staff may not be proficient in English, they are generally well-versed in symptoms of diseases like malaria and typhoid common to the area, and have the right equipment and medicine for in-time diagnoses and treatments. Antibiotics are also widely stocked in these hospitals, so treating bacteria-caused colds and flus tends to be straightforward. However, for more severe, urgent treatments, these hospitals may not have the right capacity or expertise. For instance, while a broken arm can be treated in these hospitals by applying a cast, fractures on the torso cannot be handled.
In many hospitals, there is also a lack of anti-rabies or anti-venom medicine, making the situation especially grave for people who frequently traverse wilderness areas with abundance of hostile wild creatures. It is advisable, then, for foreigners living long-term in rural Africa to find out about medical evacuation services and international insurance plans. In truly emergency situations, such as getting bitten by a poisonous snake, availability of medical evacuation can be the difference between life and death. Even if the costs are a little high, it makes great sense to pay the prices for safety in this case.
Finally, local hospitals also do not offer more routine medical checkups, such as in-depth physical exams or dental cleanings. These services should be undertaken when the foreign resident travels abroad to a destination with more medical options on offer. Again, international insurance plans would come in very handy, and even necessary, in these circumstances. With potential dangers to one’s health, whether manmade or naturally caused, never so far away, it is not just for the peace of the mind, but realistic and practical, to have Plan B (and C) ready in case local medical facilities are not up to task.
In summary, living in rural Africa presents many challenges for a foreigner who is accustomed to widespread availability of different medical services. To make one’s rural life as comfortable, safe, and inexpensive as possible, much prior preparation and independent research are needed. In particular, the matters of decent healthcare are unavoidable and pivotal for decent living standards; much effort is required to understand just how they actually are in rural areas. The prior paragraphs have presented some summarized information on the reality-on-the-ground for needed preparations.
Of course, the information may be more relevant to rural Tanzania than other parts of rural Africa, but some commonalities do exist across the continent. There are plenty of pros. For basic medicines and checkups, the wide availability of generics and low-paid doctors means that even without any form of insurance coverage, the costs of medical care can probably considered the cheapest in the world. It makes sense to stock up on basic medicines in rural Africa, as long as one is more or less confident on the efficacy of the medicines on sale.
But the low prices of medicines cannot take away the fact that many needed treatments for more complex illnesses and injuries are simply unavailable. Tanzanians, for instance, spend hours on the bus from across a geographically quite massive country so that they can access the best (and most expensive) medical care available in Dar es Salaam. For many farmers with no money to spare for such long journeys and costly treatments, getting gravely sick is pretty much equivalent to waiting for death. There is little action by the government to spread good healthcare to rural clinics.
Many foreigners with professional interests in rural Africa are discouraged by potential hurdles in daily lives when considering moving to the region for more long-term residence. As the above information illustrates, while certain challenges do exist, they can be overcome with good preparation and comprehension of how things work locally. By being more knowledgeable about the region before even stepping foot on it, one would be well-prepared to make long-term residence in rural Africa possible, realistic, and enjoyable.
Image Credit: http://www.aljazeera.com/mritems/Images/2013/11/28/2013112855453306580_20.jpg