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Helping insure international workers against significant risks

08 June 2007 Gareth Stokes

The Travel Insurance Consultants (TIC) held a series of breakfast presentations to announce their partnership with BUPA International. TIC has been appointed as plan advisor to the BUPA product range for Southern Africa. (Click on the heading to read m

BUPA International is a global medical insurance company with more than eight million members worldwide. Members from 115 different nations are covered in 190 countries around the globe. In a joint media press release, the companies noted that the partnership "afforded TIC the opportunity of marketing a leading international brand to South African companies who have appointed staff to positions in other countries for extended periods of time."

TIC invited Dr Paul Davis to present on the difficult medical environment encountered by international workers, particularly when posted in developing countries. These individuals faced a number of risks over and above those which they would have faced in their home countries. Davis mentioned that "Security, education and health are the three top concerns of someone going to work abroad."

Mortality as a measure of health

Davis began his presentation with a quick comparison between the so-called first world and third world economies.

"The huge difference between developed countries and developing countries is in your life expectancy In developed countries there is an increasing life expectancy, while in developing countries there is a decreasing life expectancy, in general, said Davis. To illustrate this, the average life expectancy of a woman in the United States is nearly twice that of a woman in Africa.

Many factors contribute to this huge discrepancy in life expectancy. These include poverty, poor sanitation and less than adequate provision of medical services. However, Davis believes that the impact of HIV/Aids on life expectancy in Africa remains the major culprit. This disease has reduced the average South African's life expectancy from 54 years to 42 years over the last 12 years.

Healthcare risks when living and working in developing countries

Health is one of the major concerns of expatriates and foreign workers. Davis warned that the medical environment which they experience in their host country is vastly different from what they are used to. "What you can expect in terms of healthcare delivery is going to be very different from what you get at home," said Davis

Davis provided a breakdown of the major risks which international workers needed to be aware of, and make provision for when purchasing medical cover for their international assignments. The first major risks were from poor sanitation (causing water borne diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera) and diseases carried by insects (including malaria, dengue fever and tic borne encephalitis).

Travellers also had to be aware of the high prevalence of unnatural death in Africa and South Africa. Davis noted that "Botswana has the highest incidence in the world of motor vehicle accidents and motor vehicle deaths per kilometre per vehicle travelled," with South Africa a close second. The high incidence of motor vehicle accidents resulted in a large proportion of the really serious transports [being] done for people who were involved in motor accidents, and in very rural areas.

Unnatural deaths due to interpersonal violence remained at wartime magnitudes in many African countries. Davis sighted the high murder rate in South Africa in support of this observation. Specific risks also existed due to diseases such as HIV / Aids and TB. And all of the risks mentioned were exacerbated due to poor health facilities and service levels in most developing countries.

Specific advice on purchasing international medical cover

Over the last decade South African firms have been expanding in Africa at a staggering rate. Construction, mining, banking and telecommunication companies deploy thousands of South Africans in many developing economies throughout Africa. Employees who spend lengthy periods away from home require medical insurance solutions that are tailored to their specific needs, while recognising the endemic geographical and geopolitical risks associated with their deployment.

Davis believes these individuals should purchase travel insurance (or medical insurance) which provides appropriate levels of cover, has no exclusions for existing conditions, provides cover for periods in excess of the total planned stay and contain no geographical restrictions. The final point was of particular importance in Africa, where trips into other countries were often unplanned or unavoidable.

The individual should always include emergency evacuation in the policy and should strive to include emergency evacuation to a country of choice, to ensure the best possible medical care. Finally, the product seller should have knowledge of the area in which they provided the cover and should have an efficient communication network in place.

Keeping these points in mind, would ensure that the employee received the most appropriate form of travel or international medical insurance available.

Editor's thoughts:
Travelling to adventurous locations is a favourite activity of many South Africans. The risks mentioned in this article clearly outline the importance of comprehensive travel insurance for travellers, and medical insurance for international workers. Is enough being done to ensure that South African insurance brokers know about travel insurance options? Send your comments to

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