Travellers & infectious disease: should we worry?

Kevin Featherly looks into the growing risks posed by infectious diseases, and asks what travel insurers could be doing to better protect insureds 
In mid-April, Albie de Frey got an urgent call from Mozambique to his Johannesburg office. The caller identified himself as a ‘horse medic’ and explained that his patient, a foreign worker at a remote petroleum production site, was gravely ill and needed de Frey’s immediate help. De Frey is travel director of International Health Management Consultants (iNHEMACO) S.A., a Geneva-based company that provides medical support to construction and mining interests in Africa. De Frey was eager to lend a hand, but was unsure how. The medic told de Frey that the patient — an expatriate from Italy —suffered from both malaria and dengue fever. That gave de Frey immediate pause. “You doubt the diagnosis,” de Frey says. “Why would the guy have malaria and dengue?” The medic also told him that, because the patient had received five units of blood, he couldn’t be transported by air. That made no sense, de Frey says. Most peculiar of all, de Frey says, the caller told him a surgeon in the local government hospital was refusing to operate on the man.
To operate? “Why would you want to operate on a guy who has got a bleeding disorder because of an infectious disease?” he says. Despite all those confusing signals, de Frey indicated that iNHEMACO would do whatever it could and awaited further instructions. They never came. De Frey received a text an hour later informing him that the man was dead. De Frey believes the patient probably contracted simple malaria that was allowed to develop into deadly complicated malaria. “He must have been sick for a couple of days and they waited too long to sound their alarm bells,” de Frey reckons. “It’s so sad.”

between 34 and 50 per cent of claims could be related to possible infectious disease