One of the worst things about traveling to poor countries for extended periods has to be the issue of health. The fact is that unless you are virtually bullet proof you ARE going to get sick. If you’re lucky it’ll just be a case of Bali/Bombay/Burkina Faso Belly, but things can get much much worse. Be prepared!
If you are going for any extended length of time, then immunisations will be necessary, but doctors ain’t doctors. Your best bet for a healthy escape is a “travel doctor.” This breed of GP are usually found in surgeries decked out to serve every medical eventuality that any traveller might encounter and prepare said traveler for such mayhem. As someone who has been to both a normal GP before a big trip and a travel doctor before another big trip, I can tell you – the travel doctor wins. As far as I know these guys aren’t specialists in the sense of other medical specialists (travelologist?), but they are prepared for what you’re about to tell them.
Now it isn’t just the immunisations that you need to get – it’s the “extras” that count. These guys can deck you out with all the common and not so common drugs that you may need in the third world where decent doctors are hard to come by. Mine came in a funky little case too, with a prescription tucked in so customs didn’t get nervous. Now I am sure some good GPs could probably do all this for you without too much hassle, but the fact is I haven’t found them yet – getting this stuff together quickly and properly always seemed to be a time-consuming drag before I met my new friend – the travel doctor.
Another great thing is if your travel doctor knows where you are going then he should be able to suggest a western doctor or clinic to call in emergencies in situ. Maybe even a place to get that second or third shot that you didn’t have time to get before you left. Be aware that these doctors and clinics will usually be in the main cities or capitals, but it’s still nice to know they’re somewhere in country.
My travel doctor was REALLY expensive, but it was worth it. If you’re planning a big trip then look up in the Yellow Pages to see if your town has one of these guys. You won’t regret it.