Health Issues a Growing Risk for Business Travellers

An increasing number of business travellers are being sent to nations with higher medical and travel security risk, including Indonesia and Vietnam, according to travel security firm International SOS.

The company’s medical director, Irene Lai, said its medical case data from 2013 showed members are working and living in increasingly risky locations.

Data compiled from about 600,000 cases last year found that more than 40% occurred in countries classified as ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ risk, a sharp increase from a figure of under 25% in 2010. Half of the cases in Asia and the Middle East were in high risk countries with assistance most commonly required in Indonesia, India, China and Vietnam.

Africa continues to be without any countries classed as ‘low risk’, while Europe remains a largely low-risk continent. Nevertheless, travellers still require medical assistance in low-risk areas, the research found.

As in previous years, injuries, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems are the three most common reasons that SOS members contact the company for medical assistance.

Around 11% of medical cases in high-risk countries are due to cardiovascular disease, while another 11% can be attributed to infectious illnesses including malaria and dengue fever. The research also found that while heart disease was the fifth most common medical risk for men it wasn’t one of the top ten risks for women.

“Our message is clear. If you haven’t thought about preparing your travellers and don’t already have programmes in place to do so, the time to act is now,” said International SOS medical director – assistance, Dr Samir Dwivedi.

“Many hospitalisations and medical evacuations are due to preventable causes such as injuries and cardiovascular problems and the risk of evacuation is related to the medical risk at the destination. Preparation of travellers, including a risk assessment, education and health check programme for staff, will reduce the need for intervention after travel. This is especially important for those travelling to high and extreme risk countries.

“Potentially such preparation can have a positive impact on business continuity. If companies are not proactively managing the health of their travelling staff prior to deployment, they are running the risk of failed assignments, preventable costs, litigation, or even a tragic outcome.”

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