Zambia offers universal healthcare to all its citizens. However, by Western standards this healthcare is very basic. Zambia’s public healthcare system is chronically underfunded and only 50 percent of rural people have access to a facility (often only a mission hospital), compared to 99 percent of urban dwellers. The health system is heavily stretched at the moment, and only a critical injury will elicit immediate help in a government hospital. Many Zambian doctors leave the country or work only for the private health system, meaning that public health is subject to a skills drain.
There are good private hospitals in Zambia’s larger cities, particularly Lusaka. These cater not only to foreigners but also to affluent Zambians. Expats living in mining communities and compounds owned by their organisation are likely to find company-sponsored clinics on-site that are able to cater for their basic medical needs. However, most expats are evacuated to South Africa or elsewhere in the case of long-term serious medical care being required.
Although pharmacies are available in major towns and cities, they are not always well stocked and may not carry many of the usual drugs that expats may be used to having easy access to. Pharmacies are generally open from Monday to Saturday, with very few operating on Sundays and none on a 24/7 basis. In the case of an emergency, expats should try pharmacies attached to hospitals or clinics.
It's essential that expats either ensure that any medical insurance cover from outside Zambia covers living in the country, or that medical insurance is taken out quickly on arrival. It is important that this medical plan is comprehensive, including cover for country to country evacuations. Expats should consider comprehensive medical cover as an essential part of their contract negotiations when moving to Zambia.
Zambia is in the malaria belt and also a TB zone, so a doctor should be consulted before departure about appropriate medication. An essential purchase in Zambia is a mosquito net. These nets cover the bed at night and have a significant effect in reducing mosquito bites. Cholera and dysentery are also common, particularly during the rainy season. Zambia also has a very high prevalence of HIV infection and unprotected sex should be avoided.
For anyone planning on going into rural Zambia, packing an extensive medical kit is essential. There will be very few facilities to purchase medical supplies in the countryside, and often a traveller can be better kitted out than a poor mission hospital.
The water in Zambian cities is drinkable, but best avoided. Bottled water is widely available and the best option for new arrivals.
Emergency services are inadequate, especially outside of Lusaka. However, it is hoped that recent plans by the government to purchase a fleet of new ambulances and training for emergency response teams will improve the situation. In the case of an emergency expats can dial 991.