General advice for healthy living during your stay in Indonesia
The health risks of living in and traveling through the tropics are often simultaneously underestimated and exaggerated. Any health risks also vary a great deal according to length of stay, occupation, budget and location. The majority of expatriates are at very low risk from serious tropical diseases due to good previous health, access to good nutrition, accomodations, and medical care, and when necessary relatively rapid access to specialist medical services.
The most important adjustment for safeguarding your health is to realize the difference in protective and disease-control standards between developed countries and developing countries such as Indonesia, and therefore that the habits of a lifetime must adapt to less-developed infrastructures.
In developed countries:
- Food and potable water is inspected at all stages of its production
- Sewage treatment and garbage disposal is regular and well-organized
- Regular health inspectors, public health departments and individual doctors and nurses work closely together to prevent epidemic and endemic diseases
- There are typically fewer types of disease-spreading insects and animals
None of these factors are a given in Indonesia.
The overall approach to medical care in Indonesia may be quite different from what you are used to.
Before coming to Indonesia, you should have on-hand an extended supply of any prescription medicine needed. Ensure you can continue that supply from a local facility or that a local substitute acceptable to your original prescribing physician is available, just in case you need to resupply.
Before there are any emergencies, early in your stay identify the closest medical facility with English-speaking personnel. Ascertain its working hours and reputation if possible. If in Indonesia for the first time, bring your overseas medical records with you. Unless absolutely necessary, it is suggested that you do not go to a local hospital on your own without first contacting your medical assistance company. If you must, at least ensure you have a translator to assist you and enough money to cover the admission fees.
Many medications can be purchased over the counter that would only be available by prescription in your home country. However, the manufacturer may be different or the drug may be stocked under a different brand name. Know the generic (chemical) name of your medication(s) if you think you are going to need to restock locally. It definitely pays to bring the package insert from your previous prescription with you. Fraudulent drugs are not a major problem if you purchase from an pharmacy (apotik), but make sure everything is in order before pay.
You will need to pay in cash at the completion of most medical consultations, as very few medical facilities in Indonesia outside central urban areas accept credit cards.
Keep your insurance/assistance company card with you at all times. Make a personal emergency response plan and have it translated into Indonesian. This plan should answer the question: "what would I want people to do if they found me unconscious?"
2. Call your insurance/assistance company early BEFORE there is a problem
Make a test call to ensure the phone number is valid, and that you can reach someone who speaks your language. Make sure they can take appropriate action in the event of an emergency, and have sufficient local personnel and infrastructure to act quickly.
3. Speed up the response
Volunteer minimum required information logically and clearly.
- Name and telephone number you can be reached at if the line is cut off
- Membership number or company affiliation
- Brief description of the medical problem and what help you need
- Location of patient, and location of passport (vital for overseas medivacs)
ALWAYS know the status and whereabouts of your family's passports.
NEVER allow your travel documents to be taken from you overnight or over the weekend, unless you know you can retrieve them in an emergency.
Notwithstanding the above precautions and concerns, living in Jakarta and Indonesia is statistically as safe as living in developed countries. This is because the number one killer of under-40s in developed countries is automobile-related fatalities, which are largely a product of careless driving while intoxicated; a problem much less common in largely Islamic Indonesia).
Most of the risks and worries that concern us while we live here can be markedly reduced and even eliminated by taking care and paying attention.
If you have medical-related questions about living in Indonesia to ask of medical professionals, see Ask the Experts.
We trust this information will assist you in making correct choices regarding your health and welfare. However, it is not intended to be a substitute for personalized advice from your medical adviser.
Our appreciation to Dr. Rene de Jong of International SOS, an AEA Company who has contributed this article.