Health Insurance in Sao Tome and Principe
If you’re moving to Sao Tome and Principe or simply visiting the country, you’ll probably be wondering how its healthcare system works and whether securing health insurance is necessary. This guide provides you with a quick overview of health insurance in Sao Tome and Principe, along with information about the country’s healthcare system and some useful travel tips. Read on to learn more, or click below to obtain a free quote.
About Sao Tome and Principe
The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is an island country, off the western coast of central mainland Africa, situated in the Gulf of Guinea and to the northwest of Gabon. It consists of two archipelagos around the two main islands of ‘Sao Tome’ and ‘Principe’. The country has a total land area of about 1,001 square kilometers. As a former Portuguese colony that gained independence in 1975, Sao Tome and Principe’s official language is Portuguese. Its capital city Sao Tome, located on the south side of the island of the same name, is home to the majority of the country’s 211,000 residents. When you think of Sao Tome and Principe, you probably think of a tropical paradise with palm-fringed beaches, crystal-clear waters, and scarcely explored jungles. Moreover, one can enjoy some of the world’s best coffee, fresh fruits, seafood, gourmet chocolate while in the country. In terms of standard of living, Sao Tome and Principe is ranked medium, with a Human Development Index (HDI) score of 0.609.
Healthcare system in Sao Tome and Principe
There are two hospitals in Sao Tome and Principe, one on each Island, and other medical facilities include health centers and health posts, which are geographically accessible to the general population. Although the healthcare system in Sao Tome and Principe has improved a lot throughout the years, healthcare services are characterized by inequalities in availability and access. The infrastructure of the healthcare system in the country is also generally poor. Firstly, there is routinely a lack of medical personnel. Those that are practicing normally have limited training and are sometimes unable to deliver basic healthcare services. Secondly, the country also faces shortages of medicine and medical supplies.
Public vs. Private healthcare sector
In Sao Tome and Principe, the healthcare system consists of both a public and private sector. The public sector provides free healthcare to all citizens of the country. It is divided into two levels: the district and central level. While the former focuses on primary healthcare services, normally via health centers, the latter focuses on secondary healthcare. Tertiary or specialized healthcare services are very deficient in the country and patients often have to travel to nearby countries for treatment. A private sector also exists, though it is more expensive than its public counterparts and standards are still not on par with many western countries.
Funding for the public healthcare sector comes through four sources: government expenditure, the public health investment plan, expenditure financed by donors, and revolving fund replenishment. The total expenditure on health for Sao Tome and Principe is around 9.5% of the country’s GDP. On the contrary, funding for private hospitals comes from patients. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for any healthcare treatments or services rendered. Patients either make out-of-pocket payments or put in place a medical insurance plan.
Availability of medicine
Public and private pharmacies are available throughout Sao Tome and Principe. Although public healthcare is free for citizens, medicine is not free for the majority of the population. However, there are exemptions for a few categories. For instance, pregnant women and children under the age of five years are not required to pay for their medicines. All medicines in Sao Tome and Principe are imported and some medicines may not be available in the country. If you are visiting or moving to the country, you’re advised to carry properly labeled medications with you.
In general, medical facilities in Sao Tome and Principe are limited, and the level of care offered is relatively low. In the case of serious illnesses, emergencies, and for less common medical conditions, patients are required to travel to countries like Gabon, Portugal, or South Africa for treatments. Given the high costs associated with this, travelers and expats in the country should purchase comprehensive travel insurance or international health insurance that includes cover for medical evacuation.
Sao Tome and Principe Travel Advice
If you’re making a trip to Sao Tome and Principe, you should bear in mind the following. In case of health emergencies whilst you’re out there, it’s also a good idea to be in possession of a good travel insurance plan.
Climate and temperature:
Sao Tome and Principe is situated on the equator, with a generally hot and humid climate. There is little seasonal or daily variation in temperature - normally it is around 27°C and rarely goes above 32°C. If you’re not already used to hot weather, make sure you know how to take precautions. The temperatures in the mountains are slightly cooler, with a daily temperature of about 20°C, and during the nights it cools down further.
Wet season and vaccination:
There are primarily two seasons in Sao Tome and Principe, rainy season and dry season. The rainy season runs between October and May, while the dry season runs between June and September. If you’re traveling during the rainy season, make sure you’re aware of wet season diseases that occur. Note that Malaria is a risk in Sao Tome and Principe. Ensure that you visit your GP before traveling to discuss any vaccinations you may need.
Road travel and safety:
Even though traffic is light, the majority of the roads in Sao Tome and Principe are in poor condition, especially when you travel outside the capital. Most roads are also unlit during the night and it’s not uncommon to find animals on the road. Therefore, you should avoid being on the roads at night. This is even more so important during periods of heavy rainfall, where landslides and mudslides can occur.
Crime rates are generally low in Sao Tome and Principe, but there can be instances of burglaries and armed robberies. Safeguard your valuables and cash, especially when at the beach. It is also recommended to choose a hotel with a safe, so that you can leave your valuables if you need to. Furthermore, ensure you’ve made copies of all important documents, including passport.
Local laws and customs:
Smuggling and/or using illegal drugs is an offense in Sao Tome and Principe and is punishable under the local law. Punishments for drug-related offenses are also known to be severe. While homosexual acts are not illegal in the country, the public’s attitude towards it can be less tolerant than in western countries and public displays of affection may attract unwanted attention. Make sure you’re aware of the local laws and customs before you travel.
Please note that the information on this page is not fully comprehensive and is subject to change without prior warning. It is advisable to consult with a local Sao Tome and Principe embassy should you have any doubts before you depart on your journey.
Private health insurance for expats in Sao Tome and Principe
Given that Sao Tome and Principe is a small island country, expats in the country are strongly urged to secure an international health insurance plan that gives flexibility in seeking treatment overseas and medical evacuation if necessary. This will give you peace of mind as you can always bank on good healthcare no matter what the local situation in the country. If you’re on the lookout for health insurance, or just want to learn more, you can get in touch with Pacific Prime.
As a global health insurance broker, with over two decades of experience, we can help you find expat health insurance catering to foreign nationals in Sao Tome and Principe. What’s more, apart from basic coverage, we can also help you secure a range of added benefits like dental, maternity, vision, and more! Many of our plans are also globally portable and renewable for life, so you’ll always have the coverage you need. Want to go over any specific requirements with our expert advisors? Contact us today for a free quote and insurance consultation.