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Employers must raise their game on disease preventions for overseas staff

Employees are at increased risk of additional diseases if they travel abroad for work. Employers must act against these extra risks before staff embark on global assignments.

Employees are at increased risk of additional diseases if they travel abroad for work. Employers must act against these extra risks before staff embark on global assignments, warns Towergate Health & Protection, and not let Covid requirements overshadow other important preparations for travel.

Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection says: “Employers must do their homework in advance. A lot can be done beforehand to prepare employees before travel in order to help prevent illness. Trying to arrange medical treatment is much more difficult after the event.”

Increased risk
Employees abroad are at risk of different diseases than those based in the UK, and longer trips abroad, such as working overseas, increase the risk of catching some diseases. Studies have shown that population growth and climate change mean that neglected tropical diseases are re-emerging and are no longer necessarily the preserve of the tropics. So the risk of such diseases must now be considered for all overseas postings, not just those in remote or developing areas.

Vector-borne diseases
Vector-borne diseases are spread by living organisms like fleas, ticks, and mosquitos. Environmental changes, increased international travel and trade, changes in agricultural practices, and rapid urbanisation have been shown to increase the number and spread of many vectors worldwide, making more people vulnerable, notably business travellers.

Malaria is now found in over 100 countries, including large areas of Africa and Asia, Central and South America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, parts of the Middle East and some Pacific Islands.

Zika virus
Mainly spread by mosquitos, Zika virus is a very mild infection but there is evidence it causes birth defects. For employees relocating to Central and South America and the Caribbean and planning to start a family, this could be extremely problematic.

There are also numerous vector-borne diseases that affect more temperate climates. So when a company sends employees overseas to work, they need to be aware of the risks in every country and seek health advice before the trip takes place.

Mumps and measles
There has been a recent resurgence of mumps and measles in the UK and globally. These contagious diseases are preventable through vaccination but there have been severe outbreaks in pockets across the world.

Vaccinations are a simple and effective way to prevent many diseases. The NHS schedule of vaccines that UK citizens have as children are focussed on UK diseases, so further vaccines are likely to be required for those planning to work abroad. Taking expert advice is very important. Global mobility programmes can help with the planning as there are many aspects to consider and each country will have different risks and requirements.

Repatriation and evacuation plans
It is important to have plans in place before travel. For example, Ebola has not gone away, and it is not easy to get employees out of countries where there are severe outbreaks, as the country will go into immediate lockdown. A repatriation strategy is essential.

An evacuation plan is not just about removing employees from an area quickly in case of disaster. If an employee becomes ill in an area where medical care is inadequate, then they may need to be evacuated to another area, with better, more suitable, medical care. This can be astronomically expensive if the right cover is not in place prior to the event.

Sarah Dennis says: “The simple message is to plan ahead. The risks of diseases that can be caught abroad are quite different from those in the UK, and it’s important that employers and employees are aware.  And it’s very important that everything is in place before an employee travels.”

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