Two months ago, the multinational company Jhumur worked for as a senior executive, sent her to China for a week. Arriving there, she promptly fell ill and was soon running a temperature. Unfortunately, she had not bothered to take any medicines along from India, not even a paracetamol tablet.
Nor could Jhumur, who didn't want her second name taken in this story, get any help. "No one at the five-star hotel I was staying in spoke English," she says. "I wasn't able to explain that I needed some medicine for fever. There wasn't even a doctor on call." She suffered, but vowed she would never be caught unawares again.
Many executives, who are often in a rush, either forget to take a medical kit along, or do not bother, believing they are in sound health and nothing will happen to them. This is an extremely short-sighted view. Whenever you travel out of town, especially overseas, do ensure you are prepared for any health contingency that may arise. That means carrying not only a medical kit that includes analgesics, antacids and the like (see Essential Kit), but also taking travel insurance, which covers any medical costs you may incur. Without insurance, these costs can be prohibitive.
Sure, some do. A striking contrast to Jhumur is Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of London-based manufacturer of wireless web access products, DataWind. "I never leave without my basic medicines," says Tuli, who travels nearly 300 days a year. He also has an annual travel insurance plan for his family, which covers both business and personal trips. "An overseas traveller should always carry a healthcare insurance cover," says Dr Nikhil Kulkarni, a general physician at Mumbai's S.L. Raheja Hospital.
"Those suffering from diabetes, asthma or cardiac problems should also take their doctor's prescription with them." This is because they will otherwise find it impossible to replenish the stock of drugs they need daily. Most Western countries, unlike India, are very strict about not selling drugs except against doctor's prescriptions.
It is wise to keep a medical kit handy while travelling within the country too. Shayak Banerjee heads the Programme Review and Management Team at Pratham, a leading education NGO. His work often takes him to remote interior villages. Like Tuli, he too always carries a first-aid kit, which includes band-aids, antacids and anti-allergy pills. This really paid off once when he fell ill late at night on a train, on an overnight journey from Bhubaneswar to Orissa's Rayagada district, "The kit should be taken along because there aren't any medical stores open in these farflung areas at night," he says.
Not enough people going abroad take travel insurance in India. "The number of outbound travellers is around 12 million. But outbound travel insurance penetration is only 15 to 20 per cent," says Sanjay Datta, Head of Underwriting and Claims at ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co. This is confirmed by the Kuoni Holiday Report 2011, prepared by Swiss travel agent Kuoni. The market is growing by about 10 to 15 per cent a year.
Some Western countries have made travel insurance mandatory for visa approval. Many, however, have not. But it is a good idea to take such insurance whenever you leave the country and make your journey truly safe.