Staying Well in Uganda

Uganda Health Tips and Advice for Travelers

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Crossing the road can cause you a lot more problems than all the tropical diseases you might be worried about.  If you take certain wellness precautions, you will be just fine.  Rarely do travelers get sick from a newly acquired problem that they contracted in Uganda.  Below are some tips that will help you to enjoy your Safari/Visit in Uganda without getting ill.

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  • Immunizations: Get them from your local doctor, or travel clinic. Yellow fever is a must, but tetanus, polio and diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, meningitis are something else to look at and whatever else your doctor sees on the list for Uganda.

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  • Malaria Prevention: It is Melarone, doxycycline and or mefloquine (larium). These are the standard.  Melarone being the best and most expensive, doxycline makes some sensitive to the sun; mefloquine gives some of you nightmares.  Start your regiment before you arrive in Uganda and follow directions.

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  • Water: Don’t drink the water. Stay away from ice cubes.  Stick with one of the bottled waters here.  If you boil water, do so for 20 minutes.

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  • Travelers Diarrhea: A most common ailment; just eat properly cooked food and if it is not hot send it back. Wash your hands before eating with soap and water. Stay away foods that are raw such as salads, fruit salads, ice cream and buffets with candles underneath them, (Unless prepared at home), don’t buy from street vendors.  Bring some Imodium and Ciproflaxin which is an antibiotic and will help in extreme cases.  Follow directions including instructions for getting fluids back into your dehydrated systems. Rarely have I have seen tourists come down with such extreme cases, but have seen it more commonly in ex-pats living here and throwing caution to the wind.

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  • Bites, bites, bites: Not only are there mosquitoes that infect you with malaria, but there are other dudus (insects) that can cause havoc such as Tsetse flies. The best is to spray your body with insect repellant.  Wear loose cotton clothing.  Some people use jeans, even though they are heavy, and this is a warm climate, they find them protective quite well.  Wear long sleeved shirts and avoid shorts in the evenings. In your room, spray in the evening as you go out for dinner.  In many hotels it is automatically done.  Use the mosquito net and a fan; flying things do not like to move against the wind.

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  • Sunburn: Easily acquired in Uganda, so get out the lotion and put it on thick and repeat. If your hair is thinning, wear a hat.  If you are going on a boat ride on the Nile or Lake Victoria, lotion is the key to avoid getting burned.

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  • Bilharzia: A small snail that at the end of the day causes damage to your organs. Not a good thing. Do not swim in lakes, there are not many that are truly Bilharzia free.  Enjoy the view of the lake instead.

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  • HIV-AIDS, STD’s: Simply-avoid it by abstaining. The percentage of bar girls with STD’s and HIV-AIDS is quite high. You are playing Russian Roulette. Condom use is a must if you cannot abstain. Many prostitutes are known to also rob you of everything, wallet, money, passport, watch, cell phone while you sleep. Recent police reports have shown that some use chloroform on body to knock you out and then take your things. This has happened in up-market hotels. Here in Uganda the slogan is ABC – A=Abstention, B=Be Committed, C=Condom or the Born Again (Balokole which is mostly Pentecostal) and evangelical communities like to substitute C=Christ. Statistics to sober you-almost 60% of prostitutes have STD’s and almost 50% are HIV positive. In recent years the HIV infection rate has been on the increase, attributable to the myth that ARV drugs cure (deal with symptoms, that circumcision protects you totally from HIV (reality it reduces the chances).  In the 90’s there was a combined effort from the President and his wife along with the faith communities and everyone else that joined forces to educate people regarding HIV.  This educational process has waned and the results are higher percentages of new infections.

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  • Meningitis: You can get inoculated before you arrive and avoid the chance of getting it.

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  • Nicks and Cuts: If untreated, they become the cause of infection that can last a long time. Clean the cut or nick properly. Use a proper anti-septic cream.

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  • Heat Rash: Cool down, wear baggy clothing and powder your body with talc.

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  • Snakes: They more often move away from you before you ever meet them. Most snakes are not poisonous.  You will not come across many in your time here.  You will rarely meet one here, it is only out in the countryside.

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  • The most common problem has to do with the intestinal track and that in most cases is easily treatable. Rarely have I had visitors from abroad that were laid up in a hospital or even in their hotels or other lodgings.

Traveling in and around Uganda 

Getting around in Uganda

Self-Drive, Taxis, Boda-Boda Cycle, For-Hire, Buses, Airlines

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Getting around in Kampala seems madness, but actually it is a lot easier than it may appear on the surface.  Public Transport of one kind or another is readily available but it takes a bit of planning.

  • Taxis: are the easiest and lowest priced means in Kampala to move around. Fourteen passenger vehicles that plow the streets looking for customer, stopping almost anywhere. Stand on any street corner and put your hand out as you see one approaching (wave up and down). The only thing for a foreigner to be aware of is frequent over-charges.  Ask any staff person at Ssamba Foundation or other kind accommodation where you are staying what the price should be to where you want to go and they will tell you.  Then when the conductor asks you for a higher price you tell him what it should be, fellow passengers will readily side with you.  If you are going downtown this is quite easy and you will be dropped off in the taxi park, from where you can most often walk to your downtown destination.  If you are going elsewhere you might have to make a transfer to another taxi, but that is simply done by asking the conductor of the taxi you are taking for direction to the taxi that will take you there. Taking a taxi may seem like madness, but there is actually a lot of order to it.  This applies not only to Kampala but for most of Uganda.

  • Boda Boda Motorcycles: They started out as bicycles and you can still find them, but have evolved into mostly Indian manufactured motorcycles. They are the fastest means from one point to another, but also the most dangerous.  Some foreigners find them exhilarating and enjoy the ride, while others shun them altogether.  Boda-Boda drivers are a unique lot of men; most of them have no license, drive without required helmet and do not require a helmet for passengers.  One American woman was recently shown with her own helmet. Boda-Boda cycles are more expensive but again faster since they break every law there is and cause daily havoc on the road, or off road if the road is blocked, but they get you there.  They do have a high rate of accidents and many lives are lost yearly and bodies maimed, at the emergency ward, most are from Boda-Boda riding.  If you take one, you will learn how to pray, no matter what your spiritual background is.  Boda-Boda Motorcycles are found everywhere in Uganda even in the most desolate of places, there will be a boda-boda stage.  Remember to ask the staff at your lodging as to what the cost should be and negotiate, laugh a lot and bargain. Tell the Boda-Boda Driver to take it easy and if he goes beyond your fear threshold, let him know, enough is enough.
  • Special Hire Taxi: This is the most expensive means of transport around Kampala and other towns there is the Special Hire Taxi. It costs the most unless you are sharing the cost with someone else and then it can come down to the cost of a Boda-Boda. Depending on how many people are sharing. Again most hotels have someone whom they can refer you too but also remember that often they get a commission for referrals and you may not get the best price.  Only yellow taxi in downtown Kampala has metered rates, everywhere else it is negotiate.
  • Hire a vehicle with driver: On that one I can be of assistance. You can hire a vehicle for so much a day, plus fuel.  The rates in town will usually be a bit lower than out of town.  I can arrange for you to have a passenger vehicle, a van, or 29 passenger bus if needed in around Kampala or any Uganda destination. If you need airport transfer, we can also arrange that.
  • Traveling to other towns in Uganda: To many places that are not too far, you can take a taxi. Otherwise there are buses that will take you there for a very reasonable price and at a speed that is often faster than what you might be comfortable with.  They are a bit crowded but again the normal way to getting somewhere 350 kilometers away.  Buses are also the means of getting to Rwanda, Kenya and South Sudan.  You can fly, but the price difference is huge.
  • Eagle Air: Flies to many destinations in Uganda at a reasonable rate of getting there and back. They have a good safety record and have been around for many years.  If it comforts you, they have Biblical scriptures painted on the outside of the planes.
  • Self Drive: Something you want to avoid unless you have to. It is best to have experience in death defying situations and being a risk taker. You will need a vehicle that is road worthy and check it out thoroughly when renting.  Fuel is expensive about 1.70 USD per liter.  Check for spare tire changing equipment.  You will need a license.  You will need a log book, certificate of insurance.  Car rentals are high and in many cases it is cheaper to rent a car with driver.
  • Biking: Another one of those ways I would not suggest in Uganda unless you are experienced in chaotic conditions. Bicycles get no respect and in the first fifteen minutes of driving you barely escape death about 3 times.
  • Hitch-Hiking in Uganda: Most often if a Ugandan gives you a ride, there is the expectation for some cash on your part. Pray that some westerner will pick you up. You do not find too many hitchhikers here. Do not try using your thumb, but flap your arms like a bird and you might have a chance.  I have known people to return home after some hours of trying.

Walking in day time is safe, no gold on you, if you carry a bag, put it on your side, and your arm and hand on it…In the morning it is still cool, evening it gets warm but not hot, holiday weather all year long… normally no rain when you walk, since most rain falls just as daylight comes, daylight is at 6:30 am.

One thing that shocks people visiting here is transportation prices when it comes for hire.  From the airport to Kampala it can be as high as 50-75 USD now, to other places it goes to 100-150 USD. It is the price of fuel here.  A gallon, a liter of petrol is 4500 shillings or 1.35 present in USD. A gallon is roughly 10 USD.  Vehicles are imported from Japan and the shipping alone is costly.  Labor to repair is inexpensive, parts cost a mint…since they are shipped….and everything that is shipped comes from Kenya at Mombasa.  A Chinese factory is being built to make Japanese car parts, since most used cars here are Toyota

Uganda Money Information and Tips

Money tips and Advice for travelers to Uganda

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Uganda for the most part is a cash based society.  Here and there you can use your credit card, (Visa cards most readily accepted, Master Card is next, but not Discover Cards and or American Express) and usually it means 6 to 8 or more% surcharge for the privilege for using your card (due to fees that are incurred by merchant in Uganda).  That means one needs cash while in the country.  Many hotels, safari companies and airlines will ask for US dollars. Uganda Shillings will be accepted in many cases instead, not always at market exchange rate.

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US Dollars are the currency of Choice:  Most permits such as the ones for gorillas must be paid in US Dollars.  Euros and UK Pound are ok for changing money into Ugandan currency.  It is important that you obtain dollar bills newer than 2010 and no tears or blemishes on them.  This helps your exchange rate and getting them accepted.

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Forex Bureaus are readily available in major towns in Uganda:  Look into the daily newspapers for today’s rate.

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Banks:  You can always exchange money at a Bank and it might take a bit longer and in most cases you get a lower rate.  You can use your credit card to get cash at banks, it may take a bit of time.

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ATM Machines:  If you have a visa debit card it is easy to get the best rate from your country’s currency converted into Shillings. The limit is usually 2,000,000 shillings per day with them.  Alert your bank that you will be doing withdrawals in Uganda otherwise you will not get any money out of the machine.

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Money Safety:  Wear a money belt around your waist to hide cash.  Use safe in your room to put your airline ticket and also your passport.  Make copies of passport, airline tickets and anything else that is an important document.  Never flash any money in public such as in restaurants or public places since it will attract unwanted attention and it will be your loss.

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Money Changers:  Avoid them.  At border crossings and Kampala streets you will be haunted by them and many are con-artists who can make you think you are getting one amount, while in reality you will get a lot less. Even if you are counting along, their hands are quicker than your eyes.

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Purchasing Items:  Avoid using dollars when buying things such as crafts and souvenirs.  You will lose money in the process.

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Money Transfers:  Best to use Western Union or Money Gram since you will get the money.  Bank to bank takes much longer and is tougher to get.  Money transfers such as Western Union will be paid out in Uganda Shillings. If you need US dollars you can then buy them at a Forex Bureau.

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Currency Converter:  See what your currency is worth in Ugandan Shillings and see today’s exchange rate.  US dollar is presently around 3500 Uganda Shilling; it has dropped 200 shillings from its high, but usually around Christmas the Dollar gains strength against the shilling.

Uganda Travel Tips and Advice for Tourists can give you more helpful information regarding you trip to Uganda.  You certainly do not want any disappointments while here.

Compiled by: MANAGEMENT

VOLUNTEER NOW

Ssamba Foundation – empowering vulnerable communities since 2006