Indonesia is a developing country with developing country health issues. But these are no cause for serious concern. Basic sanitation and pollution issues underline many of Indonesia’s health challenges, but an awareness of these issues and the practical means of managing them are all that is required for a healthy semester. ACICIS staff in Indonesia are always on hand to assist in health-related matters. Indonesia has an extensive healthcare system and premium services are readily available.
Prior to departure, consult your doctor or a Travellers Medical and Vaccination Centre (found in most major cities) to discuss vaccination requirements. This should be done as early as possible as some vaccinations require repeat visits spaced out over weeks.
Hepatitis A and B vaccinations along with typhoid are generally recommended for travel to developing countries such as Indonesia. Check with your doctor about the use of anti-malarial medication during your semester. Malaria is not of significant concern in Java or Bali, but is endemic to various other parts of the country. Likewise the island of Java is rabies free, but this is not the case for Bali and other parts of eastern Indonesia (i.e. Flores, Sumbawa and Kupang). Students planning to travel to Bali and eastern Indonesia should consult with a doctor regarding the need for a rabies inoculation.
Asthmatics or students with other respiratory conditions should seek medical advice on the possible implication of heavy pollution on their condition. An asthma management plan, preventers, bronchodilators and preferably emergency supplies of Prednisone have been steps taken by past students. Candidates with common allergies such as peanuts are also advised that their diet will be curtailed as it is a common ingredient in Indonesian foods.
If you require medication for any personal conditions, bring an adequate supply with you. Obtain a signed medical statement from your doctor confirming the medicine is prescribed and you need to carry a 6 to 12 month supply in the event that you are questioned by Indonesian customs upon arrival. It is also advisable to have a general medical and dental health check before departure.
Disclosure of any physical and mental conditions that may impact upon a candidate’s wellbeing in Indonesia is a condition of all ACICIS programs. All such disclosures are kept in the strictest confidence. Sufferers of mental illness (past or current) are advised to carefully discuss their plans with a doctor and develop strategies for managing any potential impacts deriving from the move to Indonesia.
Finally, come in good shape and learn to walk before you run! Adjusting to the climate and new cuisine (and new bugs) takes an inevitable toll on new arrivals.
In-Country Preventative Measures
ACICIS staff take healthcare issues very seriously. Each semester they manage a varying number of illness cases ranging from routine check-ups to hospitalisations. Contrary to fears engendered by well-publicised issues such as avian influenza or SARs, traffic accidents are the number one concern for our staff. Dehydration is number two on our list of concerns, followed by stomach bugs. We have managed students with every conceivable complaint from dengue fever to dislocated thumbs and have every confidence that the presence of our in-country staff makes the management of any health issues a routine affair for students.
During orientation participants are counselled on preventative measures for these and a range of health threats in Indonesia. Our in-country handbooks outline basic preventative steps for mosquito borne viruses such as dengue fever, influenza, and malaria, and common bacterial infections such as typhoid, as well as detailed information on available medical services in the respective city of study.
For more specific information on diseases and disease prevention for travellers see the website of the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention. They also have great Indonesia specific information.
It is a condition of all ACICIS programs that participants hold current a travel insurance policy that includes emergency medical repatriation coverage.
Health and Travel Insurance cover is obligatory on all ACICIS programs. All participant policies must include cover for medical evacuation and repatriation. As some applicants will be covered by policies in operation at their home university or industry organisation, advice and assistance should be requested from relevant staff on these matters. If you are searching for your own insurance, we recommend you look for one which has no excess when it comes to making a claim. Students who have unfortunately been hospitalised in the past have had to pay excesses up to $500. This is the last thing you want to be worrying about when you’re sick and trying to understand hospital bureaucracy in a foreign country!
Common Health Concerns
Participants must take precautions against diseases carried by mosquitos such as malaria, dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis. Thankfully, these diseases can be easily avoided with some simple steps:
- Cover up with long, loose-fitting clothes, including trousers and socks.
- Wash and use good quality mosquito repellents regularly, and avoid wearing perfume or scented body lotion as these attract mosquitoes.
- Consider using a specialised mosquito net or sleeping under a sheet (Indonesians typically don’t use a selimut unless in cold areas).
- Mosquito coils and other anti-mosquito methods are readily available in Indonesia, as are insect sprays.
- You can also try sleeping with a fan on full-blast to blow the mosquitoes off course or spray your room a couple of hours before sleeping.
You should check with your doctor about the worth of using anti-malarial medication. Most students decide not to take anti-malarials during the study program, preferring other precautions instead, and only take medication when they are in an isolated or remote area. You should make this choice carefully in consultation with your doctor.
Food and water
Most ACICIS participants have suffered from a case of traveller’s diarrhoea. Fortunately, the vast majority cases clear up after a day or two of discomfort and a few rushed toilet trips. Usually contaminated food or water is blamed as the culprit. There are, however, a few precautions that can be taken minimise the risk of food and water borne illnesses:
- Do not drink straight out of the tap in Indonesia. You should at least make sure that any drinking water has been boiled for 10 minutes, or use bottled water which is safe, cheap and readily available.
- Be wary of ice. In Indonesia, ice is generally ok, having been made in sterile factories and delivered to businesses as enormous clean blocks. It is the way the business chops the ice up into smaller blocks for your drink (on the footpath outside the warung!) that is of concern – be selective.
- Be careful when eating fruit – skinless varieties are generally safe (unless they have been washed with tap water). Wash fruit eaten with skin on (i.e. apples) yourself.
- Be selective where you eat. Western restaurants are not as safe as some people may have you think – kitchens often lack knowledge of correct hygiene required to prepare western food. Local places are often safer – get an idea of how clean the people running the warung/roadside stall/streetside tent are before sitting down and eating. Try to avoid the friendly push cart vendors – they can’t wash their dishes, so hygiene is poor.
Participants need to understand how polluted Indonesia can be. Anyone with asthma or any other respiratory illness must see their doctor before leaving home and come armed with a peak flow meter, an asthma management plan, preventers, bronchodilators and preferably emergency supplies of Prednisone.
Students should drink constantly from the time they arrive in Indonesia. Be aware that the change in climate, particularly from cold winters to 30°C plus weather in Indonesia, greatly increases the risk of dehydration. Caffeinated beverages and alcohol will increase dehydration, so it’s a good idea to limit your intake of these.
While the island of Java is rabies free, participants planning to travel to Bali and eastern Indonesia must take adequate precautions such as avoiding contact with animals (i.e. monkeys and stray dogs). As already mentioned, participants planning to travel to these areas should consult with a doctor regarding the need for a rabies inoculation.
Bites and Scratches
In the tropics, bites and scratches (especially coral scratches) can rapidly become septic, so it’s wise to thoroughly clean the lesion with soapy water and apply an antiseptic solution.