International travelers know that medical risks and health care vary from country to country. How can you know what levels of risk and care will be available to you, if you never have been somewhere before?
One way to find out is by taking a look at a HealthMap, offered to ABACE 2013 visitors by MedAire (Booth H313). Visitors to ABACE 2012 may remember that MedAire, which is an International SOS group company, distributed copies of the map last year. This year the company is doing the same with its HealthMap 2013, to help promote solutions that it has designed specifically for business and general aviation to allow optimum preparation and risk management.
The wall map, which is now in its fourth iteration, is designed to help people understand the medical risks in areas where they visit, whether for work or a vacation. International SOS assigns countries one of five risk categories: low, medium, medium-and-high, high and extreme. The “medium and high risk” category often indicates a disparity in the medical risks and health care available between major cities and other areas in the country. For example, selected facilities in capital cities may be of a high standard that is not available elsewhere.
International SOS evaluates and calibrates medical risk levels on an ongoing basis, using local standards of medical and dental care available, access to prescription drugs, the presence of serious infectious diseases, evacuations and cultural, language and administrative barriers. The company also uses medical case data from millions of its members who work and travel worldwide.
According to Dr. Paulo Alves, MedAire vice president of aviation and maritime health, “The higher the country’s medical risk, the more preparation is required. It includes understanding the quality of local medical services, disease risks, vaccination requirements, food and water precautions and how to best manage your chronic conditions.”
Changes in medical risk in several countries are evident when comparing the 2012 and 2013 HealthMaps. For example, French Guiana is now rated as being a moderate medical risk destination; according to International SOS, the country has seen improvements in its health infrastructure and services. However, “The risk of malaria and dengue fever still persist.”
In Syria and Libya, however, medical conditions have worsened. “These countries are extreme risk destinations due to geopolitical uprisings and instability. Domino effects to medical supplies and infrastructure, as well as food and water safety, are evident,” according to International SOS’s analysis.
Using information for 2009 to 2012 from its own TravelTracker platform, which includes a dataset of 4.6 million travelers going to 223 countries, International SOS determined that 23 percent of business travelers went to countries with medium-and-high, high and extreme medical risks.
Based on a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, “Country Factors Associated with the Risk of Hospitalization and Aeromedical Evacuation Among Expatriate Workers,” International SOS reported that expatriates living and working in countries rated with a high medical risk are six times more likely to be hospitalized than those in a country with a low medical risk. They are also more than 23 times more likely to be medically evacuated. The authors of the study hypothesized that a lack of local medical capability, presence of endemic disease and hazardous work contribute to this higher risk.
The study also found that, in high medical risk countries, 48 percent of people hospitalized for any reason would require medical evacuation. In extreme risk countries, this risk increases to 79 percent.
Said Dr. Alves, “High risk and extreme risk destinations compel organizations to employ comprehensive tactics to pre-empt risk. For example, predeparture health screenings can help identify and treat conditions such as cardiac or gastrointestinal illnesses.”
International SOS (http://www.internationalsos.com/) provides medical and security services, including medical and risk planning, preventative programs, in-country expertise and emergency response for travelers, expatriates and their dependents. Operating at more than 700 sites in 70 countries, it employs 10,000 people, including 1,200 physicians and 200 security specialists. o