Staying Healthy in Togo
Togo is a warm (OK, hot) country with primary health problems that can often be preventable for volunteers. The most common health problems you will encounter while in Togo include wound and skin infections, diarrheal disease, respiratory illness during Harmattan (wind that blows dust from the Sahara in January and February). Every country has its own indigenous microbes which don’t affect the native population and people that have grown up here with them. However, when a newcomer arrives without immunity, the body is susceptible to any organisms that invade it. Since most of you come from a climate and culture very different from those of Togo, you can expect adjustment to take the form of temporary but uncomfortable illnesses. It will happen to you all periodically. With time and adjustment to this different environment, your good health will reassert itself.
Here are a few things that place stress on your body:
Climate-the heat, humidity, and the intensity of the sun which you may have never experienced before
Culture-there are customs and traditions that will be alien to you until you learn to accept them.
Communication-you won’t understand or be understood by many until your language skills improve
Food-there are different dishes and ways of preparation to which you will be introduced
It is not difficult to remain healthy in Togo, but it will require some changes on your part. Preventive health care is the goal of everyone in the Peace Corps. And if you achieve this goal, your time as a volunteer will be happy and rewarding. Adapting to a safe and healthy lifestyle in Togo will be an ongoing and perhaps one of the most basic challenges you face as a volunteer.
Some common health problems you may have, and what you can do:
- Dehydration- The hot and humid climate of Togo may cause dehydration soon after arrival in the country and without you being aware of it. Drink more water than you normally would…12oz with meals and 12oz between meals minimum or about 3 liters per day. Dehydration is made worse by diarrhea, sweating, breathing and the fact that you have to go through the hassle of boiling your water before you can drink it…which leads us to…
- What to eat and drink-assume all water is contaminated, even rain water. Therefore, all water is unsafe for drinking unless it has been treated. To purify you must boil it for 1 full minute. Avoid drinking water in restaurants that has not been treated, including ice cubes. Food that has been well cooked and is served hot is safe…if it is not, don’t eat it. Avoid cold or uncooked foods unless you are sure that they have been soaked in water that has been treated with chlorine.
- Diarrhea- this is often self-limiting, and due to the radical change in routine, diet, stress and different organisms in your drinking water. If you get diarrhea, limit your diet to bland foods such as bread, ripe bananas, plain crackers and boiled rice or potatoes. Drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel like it…especially water. You have re-hydration packets in your medical kits. The most important thing is to not let yourself get dehydrated while waiting for the diarrhea to subside. If the diarrhea lasts more than 4 days and is more frequent than 6 watery stools a day or you have a fever, contact the medical office.
- Common Cold- many PCVs contract upper respiratory infections in the first few weeks after arrival due to the stress of travel, fatigue, exposure to new organisms and settling in. It is recommended that you wash your hands with soap and water whenever you get a chance (make chances), avoid people with colds. Rest.
- Emotional Changes- The adjustments you are feeling physically are paralleled by those you are feeling emotionally. Despite your eagerness to be in the Peace Corps and to explore your new environment, you can expect to feel some depression and anxiety. This can include the “what exactly am I doing here?” and “what was I thinking” questions, major or minor homesickness, letdown types of feelings. It may be manifested in only doing what you must and nothing extra…just getting through the day is your goal. It will get better but there can be emotional ups and downs during your service…use your peer support network and leaders, fellow volunteers, training staff and PCMOs for support. Everyone will get the book A Few Minor Adjustments, It helps a lot of volunteers.
- What to wear- in this hot and humid climate, wear clothing that is light and cool and culturally appropriate. Use sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses. Use insect repellent.
DU COURAGE and STAY HEALTHY!
|The Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs) take care of all of volunteers’ health needs during their entire service.|