Panama offers healthcare facilities of good quality, with modern hospitals in all metropolitan areas. Some of the medicals centers are the most advanced in Latin America. Moreover, the Panamanian health authorities often take immediate steps to control any health problems that seem to be on the rise. However, healthcare in Panama is quite different as compared to the US and the UK.
There are several health considerations to be taken into account for expats who are planning to move to Panama. In fact, it is a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider months before you are due to travel, to know about the recommended vaccinations for yourself and your family members.It is also worth undergoing a medical checkup, well in advance, so that if required, you can begin any medication or treatment at home.
Before you travel to Panama, make sure that you have taken all your routine vaccinations, like chickenpox, polio, influenza, tetanus, MMR, Hepatitis A & B, yellow fever and typhoid. Also, make it a point to get yourself and all your family members inoculated against Dengue fever and cholera, even though the risks of contracting such diseases in Panama are slim. If you are planning to work in the outdoors or with animals like bats, it is absolutely essential to get vaccinated against rabies. Ask your doctor to provide you with records of all your vaccines and medication.
Common heath risks
1. Malaria: Since it is possible to contract malaria in this country, you may also want to take some anti-malaria medication before moving. Alternately, you could reduce the risks of contracting this disease by wearing long sleeved clothes and using a mosquito repellant along with a bed-net to prevent mosquito bites. Unfortunately, sometimes these measures are not enough and you still may contract this disease; in case you suffer from symptoms like shivering, fever, body ache, fatigue and nausea, seek immediate medical attention. Left untreated, malaria could result in serious complications such as kidney failure, coma or even death.
2. Diarrhea: A change in food and water often leads to digestion problems. Therefore, expats traveling to Panama may experience diarrhea initially. This problem is more likely to occur in case you are staying in a rural area with poor sanitary conditions. As a preventive measure, drink only bottled or purified water in these areas. Avoid eating foods that are raw or have been cooked by street vendors. In case it isn’t possible for you to wash your hands before every meal, use a good quality hand sanitizer that contains 60% alcohol. Fortunately, diarrhea is not a very serious problem and medicines to treat it are easily available over the counter at all pharmacies. In case you continue to experience diarrhea even after taking medication for 2 days, do visit a doctor as soon as possible.
3. Sunstroke and heatstroke: Expats from certain parts of the US and UK may find the intense heat in Panama unbearable. In such cases, it is best to stay indoors during the peak afternoon period. If you are not accustomed to the hot weather, make sure to use a strong sun-block every time you go out in the hot sun to avoid a heatstroke. Also, try to wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses whenever you venture out during the day time.
4.Cancer: This happens to be one of the few health problems, which is on the rise in Panama. To curb this condition, smoking has been banned in all public places, by the Panamanian health authorities.
Many Panamanians are prone to heart diseases, because of their rich diets and lifestyles. However, this disease is not likely to spread and can be prevented by following a healthy eating plan, exercising and getting adequate rest every day.
At one time, certain diseases like smallpox and yellow fever were rife in Panama due to factors like poor sanitation and malnutrition. Fortunately, with some joint effort from the US, the country has managed to control malaria to a great extent and yellow fever is virtually non-existent. Sanitation has vastly improved in the country; for more than a decade now, almost 90% of the population has had access to clean drinking water. Another effort is the distribution of vitamins in areas where nutrition is considerably poor.