Gabon is located in the west central African continent. It shares its borders with Equatorial Guinea to the northwest, Cameroon to the north, the Republic of the Congo to the east and south, and the Gulf of Guinea to the west. It has an estimated population of 1.5 million people, and covers a landmass of 270,000 square kilometres. The official spoken language is French, and the capital city is Libreville. The economy is largely driven by oil production; accounting for some 43 percent of GDP.
Oil revenues present a misleading per capita GDP of $8,600 as the wealthiest 20 percent of the population receive 90 percent of the income, while a third of Gabonese live in poverty. Gabon’s medical facilities are generally considered one of the best in West Africa, with 90 percent of the population having access to health care.
In 1985 there were 28 hospitals, 87 medical centres and 312 dispensaries and infirmaries within the country. In 2004, there were an estimated 395 physicians, 66 dentists, 6,974 nurses and 63 pharmacists working in Gabon; while the number of medical centres remained at the levels seen in 1985. The total expenditure by government on health care services in 2006 was between 300 to 1,000 US dollars per capita, which is considered one of the highest in Africa. The Gabonese Public Health System is comprised of five difference departments, or health sectors, The Civilian Public sector under the Public Health and Hygiene Ministry, The Public Military sector under the Ministry of Defence, The Nation Health Social Security Funding and Private Insurance system, The Private Health sector, and lastly the traditional health sector.
The Gabon public health sector system provides services, information and monitoring of emerging diseases to the vast majority of the country. However, there is greater access to treatment and preventative services, technical expertise and resources in urban areas than in the rural regions of the country. All Gabon’s hospitals can be found in Libreville, Port Gentil, Franceville and the surrounding areas. In rural areas there are numerous health medical centres, mother and child health centres and primary health centres; most of which have become outdated in recent years, and have limited medical equipment and drugs on hand for treatment. Most clinics demand payment before services are administered, which can delay treatment.
The Albert Schweitzer Hospital, a research centre for tropical diseases, is located in Lambaréné on the banks of the Ogooue River in western Gabon. The hospital provides primary care for over 6,000 in-patients and 35,000 out-patients every year from all around Gabon. The Albert Schweitzer Hospital maintains modern medical facilities, such as two operating rooms where surgeons perform over 2,200 operations annually, a dental clinic and inpatient wards for surgical, adult medicine, paediatric and obstetrical patients. Bangolo hospital situated in the southern town of Lebamba offers medical services in the area of surgery, adult medicine, maternity, paediatrics and an outpatient department. The United States Embassy in Libreville can provide you with a list of hospitals operating in Gabon. This information can be accessed on their web-site, you are advised that most doctors within Gabon do not speak English, those that do will be listed on the website. Emergency services and police can be contacted by dialling 777.
The estimated infant mortality rate for 2011 is 49.95 deaths per 1,000 live births. Gabon has a life expectancy of 51.78 years old for males and 53.22 years old for females, and a total fertility rate of 4.59 births per woman. There are currently an estimated 46,000 people living with HIV/AIDS within the country. Adult prevalence is estimated at 5.2 percent which ranks it the 14th worst effected country in the world. Approximately 2,400 people die from HIV/Aids related complications each year. Transmission of HIV/Aids predominantly occurs by means of heterosexual intercourse, needle sharing or mother-to-child transmission (MTCT).
The immunization rate of Gabonese children is 97 percent for tuberculosis, 65 percent for polio, and 37 percent for measles and DPT. However it is recommended that before you visit Gabon that you consult your health care professional, preferably one experienced in travel medicine, at least six weeks before departure. This is to ensure you receive the best advice in regards to vaccinations, medications and precautionary information for the country. Routine vaccinations such as measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), diphtheria/pertussis/ tetanus (DPT), poliovirus vaccine, and Hepatitis should be up-to-date.
There is a risk of water-borne diseases in Gabon as only 70 percent of the population has access to clean water, and only 21 percent had adequate sanitation in 2000. Typhoid fever and Hepatitis A can be contracted by the consumption of food or water contaminated with faeces of an infected person. Travellers should only drink boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.
In 2008 there were 452 reported cases of Tuberculosis through out the country. TB is a deadly infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, and is contracted by contact with an infected person. The infection is spread through the air when the infected individual coughs, sneezes or spits. Most infections in humans are latent, with one in ten progressing to active disease, resulting in death for 50 percent of untreated cases. Diagnosis is by means of a chest x-ray, a tuberculin skin test, blood tests, microscopic examinations and microbiological culture of bodily fluids. These can be very costly procedures, to avoid unnecessary expenses ensure your Gabon medical insurance policy covers such costs.
Yellow fever vaccination is a requirement for entry to Gabon as it is at epidemic levels through out country. The vaccine is to be administrated ten days before arrival and at ten year intervals following departure. Yellow fever is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes mosquito which feeds during daylight hours and are abundant in urban areas. Dengue fever is also contracted from the Aedes mosquitoes bite. These are no preventative medications or vaccines available for dengue fever.
The anopheles mosquito bite poses the threat of transmitting malaria. This type of mosquito feeds predominantly during dusk to dawn. Preventative measure such as wearing insect repellent, long pants and sleeves, sleeping in air-conditioned rooms and using bed-nets are recommended. Anti-malaria drugs and other prescription drugs that are available in your home country may not be widely available in Gabon. You are advised to bring all medications with you and seek immediate medical attention if you develop a fever of 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) or above more then one week after being in a malaria risk area or within a year of returning.
Rabies is a viral disease which causes inflammation of the brain and can be contracted from wild or domestic animals. Rabies is fatal unless post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment is sought within ten days of the infection. Treatment may not be available in certain areas of Gabon therefore repatriation or transportation of the victim by air ambulance could be a possibility. For those planning on spending time in rural area, expatriates or long term travellers’, vaccinations should be considered as well as a comprehensive international medical insurance policy to cover the cost of repatriation or evacuation by air ambulance.
Other diseases that pose a threat while in Gabon are filariasis, leishmaniasis and onchoceriasis or river blindness. African trypanosomiasis or African sleeping sickness has increased incidence rates in Africa. Schistosomiasis can be contracted from fresh water while wading, swimming and washing clothes. You should only swim in chlorinated swimming pools.
There is a low level of threat from terrorist activities in Gabon but areas frequented by foreigners and expatriates are always at risk globally. Crime is on the increase in Gabon most noticeable in Libreville and Port-Gentil with reported incidents of robbery, armed attacks and rapes. It is recommended you avoid walking alone at night and to exercise caution in public areas. Do not hail taxis on the street. There have been numerous incidents of car jacking in Libreville. Driver should lock doors and keep windows closed.
Road conditions are generally poor with roads becoming impassable during the rainy season from October to December and mid-February to May. Police checkpoints are common in Gabon, if you are requested to stop at you one you may be asked to show your passport, driving licence or vehicle registration documents. Pirates have been known to attack commercial shipping vessels in the Gulf of Guinea mariners are advised to take appropriate precautions.
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