Insurance when working overseas

The role of an international development worker can vary in risk profile depending upon the project and the country in question. As a rule of thumb, if you are working for a specific international development organisation then you would expect them to offer some kind of insurance cover with the role. For those posted overseas it will obviously depend upon the risk assessment of the country in question as insurance companies will refer to the UK government’s Foreign Office advice. What should you expect from international development worker travel insurance?

Outside the remit of general travel insurance

Whether you are participating in direct aid relief as a consequence of for example a natural disaster, or assisting with long-term projects in remote areas, these scenarios are unlikely to be covered by general travel insurance. There is obviously a need to put in place fail-safe systems in the event of accident/injury and the need for medical assistance or even evacuation. The life of an international development worker can be extremely challenging and the environment very different to what many of us are used to.

Medical services

While we often take for granted the GP clinic round the corner or the accident and emergency department down the road, these are not facilities which many developing/Third World countries can afford. Indeed, many projects may involve setting up medical services in some of the more remote areas and even treating outbreaks of potentially deadly diseases.

Aid workers injured in the line of duty may therefore need medical assistance which is not available in the immediate vicinity. Air ambulances and similar services can cost literally tens of thousands of pounds therefore the appropriate travel insurance can literally be a lifesaver. There may be situations where the injured party is no longer able to carry out their aid relief duties and they need to be flown home under medical supervision. When you consider the cost of medically supervised flights home from popular holiday destinations such as Spain can run into the tens of thousands of pounds, what cost a flight home from remotest Africa?

Contagious diseases

It will obviously depend upon the area of the world to which you are posted but there are many highly contagious diseases such as Ebola. These are literally life-threatening conditions and immediate medical assistance will be required. This is just one example of contagious diseases which are often commonplace in some of the more remote parts of Third World countries. In areas where there have been natural disasters or a breakdown in law and order, medical assistance can also be in short supply and a whole array of different diseases may emerge. Even some of the more basic diseases can be killers if there is no swift access to medical assistance.

Need to evacuate

There will also be occasions where perhaps due to a forthcoming natural disaster or outbreaks of violence in the region, international development worker need to be evacuated as soon as possible. When directly employed by an international development agency there should be travel insurance in place as part of your package. Many of these international agencies have been around for decades and have experience in tackling what can be potentially fatal situations.

Pre-travel care

Even if you have the most robust travel insurance in place it makes sense to investigate pre-travel care to ensure that you are prepared as much as possible for your deployment. There is an array of issues which should be addressed such as:-

  • Reviewing vaccinations
  • Dental check-ups
  • Physical check-ups
  • Mental check-ups

The more medical issues you can avoid the more time you can spend focused on the project and the more valuable you are to the international development agency. Even a simple dental checkup might reveal treatment which is required immediately. Consider the scenario, you have raging toothache and need immediate dental treatment but you are posted in a desolate area of a Third World country. If you are unable to focus and carry out your role then you may well become more of a hindrance than a help. A full physical checkup is obviously a given but when preparing to visit potentially dangerous areas of the world a mental checkup is also very important.

Many people will not be aware but statistics show that around 30% of international development workers will experience a level of depression on their return from challenging projects. Even those projects which appear to be “relatively simple” are often carried out in difficult environments offering both physical and mental challenges.

Simple hygiene procedures

One of the main challenges when relatively inexperienced international development workers are posted overseas is the assumption that they are moving to a like-for-like situation with regards to general hygiene. In reality they may face a number of issues such as:-

  • Dirty water
  • Unhygienic food preparation
  • Inappropriate waste disposal procedures
  • Unhygienic toilet facilities

When you consider that many travel insurance companies advise customers not to, for example, use ice cubes in certain popular holiday destinations, can you imagine the dangers when living and working in a natural disaster zone? Many aid workers carry basic medication for self-treatment in the event of relatively simple injuries or perhaps potentially lethal diarrhoea. This perfectly illustrates the fact that many of us take for granted the clean and hygienic environment we live in today. Note, you will not be moving to a like-for-like situation!

Vector borne diseases

Mosquito bites and the like are referred to as vector borne diseases. While the majority will be covered in some shape or form by pre-travel vaccinations it is always best to avoid these scenarios where possible. In many ways this comes down to good preparation by not only the international development agency but also the international development worker. This may include something as simple as a mosquito net or other types of protective equipment/clothing. As many of the international development agencies are experienced in working in difficult conditions, they will have procedures in place and be well aware of the general and specific threats.

Other health risks

As well as specific medical threats, many aid relief projects will be located in disaster areas where there are many additional challenges such as:-

  • Damaged infrastructure
  • Unstable buildings
  • Landmines
  • Pollution
  • No power supply
  • Poor/non-existent law enforcement
  • Displacement of wild animals
  • Dangerous debris

Many international development workers choose to take out additional personal travel insurance above and beyond that offered by the international development agencies. This will obviously depend upon the individual’s financial situation and personal/medical issues they may have. While we deem it negligent if holidaymakers fail to take out their own travel insurance, failing to ensure that cover is in place when assisting with aid relief/projects around the world is not just negligent, it could be life-threatening.