The island nation of Madagascar and the landlocked Himalayan nation of Bhutan might seem like charming tourist attractions. Travelers might want to think twice before visiting them, though. A recent Health Risk index by International SOS urges caution for visitors to those two countries, among other places.
The world map reprinted here is a reflection of more than 300,000 medical incidents which were reported in 2014 by companies to International SOS, which specializes in health care and emergency services to clients with business travelers overseas. Based on that data, a panel took into account threats of infectious disease, hygiene and sanitation, frequency of accidents and the availability and quality of the local health infrastructure to determine how risky a trip to a particular country might be.
Despite their pristine natural beauty, Bhutan and Madagascar pose an array of risks: from the difficulty of finding adequate hospitals in remote areas to poor sanitation in others.
Some classifications made in this index ought to be questioned, though. Cuba, for instance — a country whose doctors are internationally renowned — was classified as a „high risk“ country in the Americas.
As WorldViews observed earlier, a 2008 Bulletin of the World Health Organization pointed to impressive improvements that the country had made in certain health indicators in the last 30 years. By 2008, Cuba was not only able to meet domestic medical demand, but also trained 20,000 foreign doctors and nurses per year. What are the reasons for SOS International’s concerns?
Although the organization did not give explanations for individual countries it defined „high risk“ nations more generally. Emergency services that are only inconsistently available in remote areas, limited access to quality prescription drugs as well as the threat of serious infectious diseases are among the characteristics of risky travel destinations, according to the organization. Hence, visiting Cuba might be safe if you restrict your travels to major cities, but trips to rural areas could be much more dangerous than one would expect.
Haiti, for instance, — the only ‚extreme risk‘ country in the proximity of the U.S. — might be safe for tourists in some locations and is even actively advertising its tourism industry abroad.
According to the organization, Africa is most affected by the lack of medical care and supplies for foreigners in need. About half of the continent’s nations are classified as posing an „extreme risk“, particularly those in West Africa which have been struck by the Ebola virus.
The only countries that were considered a „medium risk“ for travelers were Morocco, Tunisia and South Africa.
Despite that, health hazards in Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria and Rwanda were significantly reduced between 2013 to 2014.
International SOS classifies the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) as large, rapidly developing countries — they are part of the large splotches of brown on the map. A particular pattern can be observed: High-quality medical care is available in the major cities, but not in more remote and rural areas, making it hard to classify certain countries as a whole.
Unsurprisingly, most western, southern and central European countries were considered „low risk“ destinations due to their universal and accessible health-care systems.
Most of eastern Europe, however, could pose a medium risk, or even a high risk as it is the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. Belarus, Moldova, and war-torn Ukraine were classified in the same category.
Surprisingly, Greece is considered one of the safest destinations for travelers, despite a 40 percent decline of public hospital budgets in 2011 and occasional shortages in medical supplies in 2013.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly classified Cuba. This post has been updated.