05 Nov 2020

Access to medications abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic

Advice for British travellers overseas during the pandemic Access to medications abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • This updates the news item of 8 July 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions. All countries may restrict travel without notice.

Advice for travellers

If your journey home is delayed and you are concerned you may not have enough medicines (including antimalarials) or disposable medical equipment, you should contact your travel health insurance provider for advice about how to get safe medical supplies at your destination.

Other sources of information include:

Please do not wait until your supplies of medication or equipment are very low. In many countries medicines and equipment are not as easily available and the current COVID-19 situation may affect supply chains.

This is especially important if you were advised to take malaria prevention tablets (chemoprophylaxis) for your destination.

Follow the ABCD of malaria prevention:

  • Awareness of malaria risk

  • Bite prevention

  • Chemoprophylaxis (malaria prevention tablets) - continue to take your tablets as advised. Make sure you have enough malaria prevention tablets:
     - for the duration of your time in the malaria risk area
     - and for the length of time you were advised to take your tablets after you leave the malaria risk area.
     - If you do run low, cannot get further supplies and are unable to come home, be especially vigilant with bite precautions. If you develop a fever or other illness, try to get to reputable medical care straight away.

  • Diagnosis - prompt diagnosis and treatment without delay. Get urgent medical help for any symptoms, such as fever or flu that could be malaria, as prompt treatment is essential.

Falsified (fake) or substandard medicines are a global problem but are more common in certain regions and can be a significant health risk [1]. Buying medicines and medical devices that are not genuine online could lead to serious health consequences [2]. Antimalarial medication can also be fake, a recent report from World Health Organization details falsified chloroquine products in the Africa region [3]. Chloroquine is not a recommended antimalarial for most British travellers in Africa.

Obtaining medical supplies in person in a recognised clinic or pharmacy, ideally under the supervision of a doctor, is the preferred way to obtain medicines overseas. You should observe any lockdown regulations in place in the country you are in relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and take local advice about access to medical and pharmacy services at this time.

If you choose to buy medical supplies online, always purchase from a registered pharmacy or reputable retail outlet [1].

Advice for travellers who have returned to the UK

During the current pandemic, please be aware that if you have returned from a malarious area in the last six months and have fever, you need a malaria film the same day that you develop fever.

Travellers returning from malaria risk areas who are ill should seek urgent medical advice and inform the health professional that they have travelled to a malarious area in the last six months.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, NHS 111 will advise how you can travel safely to your local A&E department for this to be carried out [4].

Advice for health professionals

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals present with a fever. Some will have Plasmodium falciparum malaria, which can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated. All individuals being assessed for possible COVID-19 must be asked if they have travelled abroad in the last six months. If they visited a country where malaria occurs, they must have a blood test result for malaria on the same day [4, 5].


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