The Health Unit provides health care to the American diplomatic community and offers others referrals and advice on local resources and preventive measures.
Before coming to Kinshasa, consider the following:
Your general state of health: Although there are some specialists here, you are unlikely to find the depth of care with which you are familiar. For example, X-rays and CAT scans done in Kinshasa are rarely of good quality. If you are chronically ill and apt to have relapses, or if you know you are prone to ill health when you are in a stressful situation, you might do better elsewhere.
Required – Yellow Fever (must be obtained at least ten days before travel)
Recommended – Typhoid, Tetanus/Diphtheria, Polio, Meningococcal Meningitis, Measles/Mumps/Rubella, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Influenza, Rabies.
Medical insurance, including provisions for emergency evacuation and repatriation, is essential. Arrange this before you travel. Your insurance agent should be able to refer you to a reliable company. Read the fine print carefully!
Many expatriates in Kinshasa pay a quarterly or annual membership fee to be eligible for care at the Centre Privé d’Urgences (CPU), which is the best equipped of the emergency rooms here. Contact the CPU directly on arrival. It is located at the corner of Avenue du Commerce and Avenue Bas-Congo. Starcel: 20875 or 20876. Unless you have a prepaid plan such as this, it is necessary to pay the hospitalization fee when you enter. Medical costs can be extremely high for non-members. If you require surgery here, you will be asked to provide (or reimburse) all medications and medical supplies. Hospitals provide no food for patients.
AIDS is widespread here. Any sexual encounter except those with a mutually faithful partner who has been HIV-negative for at least six months should involve the use of latex condoms. You are advised to have dental work and any body piercing done before coming. Avoid any injections, even in hospitals. It is a good idea to bring a couple of sterile syringes with you for emergencies. Your caregiver can prescribe these and a cover letter to explain their purpose.
Malaria prophylaxis is recommended, starting two weeks before arrival in any malaria area. The most effective and most commonly used are mefloquine (Lariam) 250 mg once a week or doxycycline 100 mg daily. Consult your clinician or a travel medicine clinic for the pros and cons of each. Avoid mosquito bites with repellants, long pants and sleeves, bed nets, and light colors.
Tap water is safest to drink if distilled or boiled and filtered. Before eating raw fruit or vegetables, disinfect them in a chlorine bleach solution, and then soak them in distilled water for 20 minutes. Only purchase pasteurized dairy products. Inspect meat and fish for freshness and wash well before cooking. If you hire domestic staff, teach them the personal hygiene and safe food handling practices you require and supervise frequently. If you eat in a restaurant, drink bottled water and break its seal yourself. Even expensive restaurants may not properly decontaminate raw vegetables and fruits; avoid salads. The best time to eat buffet food is as soon as it is put out, rather than later, when bacteria have had a chance to multiply. Eat hot foods hot, cold foods cold.
American prescription and over-the-counter medications are not reliably available here. Plan to bring with you (in hand baggage) enough for your needs, including contraceptive supplies, vitamins, and pain relievers.
Environmental hazards include excessive sun exposure, traffic accidents, a variety of insects and poisonous snakes, parasites which attack those who venture into fresh water or ditches or go barefoot, and air pollution (localized). Pay attention at all times to personal security. Obey recommendations regarding curfew and conduct at military roadblocks.
Traffic conditions are unsafe in Kinshasa. Drive defensively and wear your seat belt. Always be prepared to stop. If walking, be cautious when crossing the street, and remember that cars passing you on the road often leave no safety margin around a pedestrian.
Your travel first aid kit should include: Oral re-hydration salts, anti-fungal powder, cough syrup, cold remedies, nonprescription painkillers, Pepto-Bismol, lubricant eye drops, skin moisturizers, antihistamine, hydrocortisone cream, antiseptic, throat lozenges, vaginitis remedies, anti-inflammatories, contraceptive supplies, sunscreen, Imodium, and insect repellents. If you are travelling with children bring their vitamins and syrup of ipecac. Also include scissors, forceps, latex gloves, soap, bandages, gauze, tape, thermometer, sling, ace bandage, soap, reusable hot/cold packs, and water disinfecting tablets.
As anywhere in the world, you should regularly exercise, rest, eat nutritious food, and manage stress. Minimize smoking and alcohol. Culture shock and symptoms caused by excess stress are common. Consider bringing with you those hobbies or possessions which help maintain good mental and physical health.