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Ignored option turns out to be the only one

By - Morris Aron | September 16th 2012

By Morris Aron

At first, they took it as another bout of malaria.

Sweating, general malaise, headache and occasional vomiting matched the disease.

Deriving from the experiences in previous such excursions, a few tablets could have treated the case and brought him back to normal health.

They were mistaken.

In a matter of hours, the health of Elipokea Akyoo – the Tanzanian driver of the tourist convoy – deteriorated. Like they were to later find out, Mr Akyoo was suffering from meningitis.

Zambia bushes

Stuck in the middle of the bushes somewhere between Swankamond and Bloomfontein in Zambia, and with a truckload of tourists and no known hospital around, something had to be done and had to be done quickly.

And that is when the nightmare of what to do started.

By the time the convoy reached the Delta region of Botswana, Akyoo’s situation had gotten worse. He was now convulsing and in urgent need of proper hospitalisation and treatment.

Without medical attention in a matter of hours, the driver was going to die. The Peak East Africa – a destination management company – caravan headed to Zambia and Botswana with a truckload of tourists interested in seeing the East and Southern Africa nations had to abruptly be stopped.

Arrangements had to be made to get Akyoo to the nearest health centre then to a hospital.

“It was one of those things that you stop and start to think what to do and still have no clue. You are in the middle of the wilderness and you have a very ill passenger who also is the driver,” said Peninah Ng’ang’a, the tour leader.

“We thought of all the options. The more we thought, the more we seemed to hit a deadlock.”

Options at hand had little or no chance of getting the driver to a hospital in time.

For one, transporting him in the caravan was going to take at least another 12 hours to the nearest health centre.

If they chose that option, then by the time they were reaching the nearest health centre, the driver would be long dead as meningitis kills in a matter of hours.

Something else had to be thought out quickly.

The caravan contacted an old friend in the region to assist with a lighter vehicle, which could take Akyoo to a nearby health facility. Reaching the old friend turned out to be another headache. Network concerns and the vast distance that they had to cover carrying the body proved to be another nightmare.

When finally the contact was located, the invalid had to be literally carried by the team from Peak East Africa across a river to get him to the van to take him to hospital.

Health centre

“It was a decision that was being made in a split second as the situation of the driver had gotten from bad to worse. It was a race against time to save his life while at the same time assuring the tourists that everything was alright and had been taken care of,” said Francis Ngige, the human resource manager of Peak East Africa.

Still, there was no reprieve. The health centre at the delta region of Botswana turned out to be a case of the many such facilities across the developing world – no medicine or essential equipments.

The convoy had to come up with an alternative arrangement to be made to get him to the nearest hospital – in South Africa.

“I got a surprise call from the team that they needed a plane to evacuate a sick patient urgently. That the situation was dire and we needed to move with speed,” said Jenifer Kimotho, deputy business manager with an insurance firm. “I had never had such a call and had to move with haste.”

It turned out to be one of the rare success stories of an insurance cover.

Peak East Africa had taken up an insurance cover that, among other things, could facilitate an airlift within a short notice in case of an emergency.

“We contacted our partners in the UK, who then liaised with their subsidiary in South Africa,” said Kamotho.

Before long, Akyoo was airlifted from the Seronka airstrip to Maun town where he was stabilised and then airlifted again to Johannesburg where he was admitted for ten days at the Linksfield Hospital. The case of Akyoo demonstrates the risk that accompanies international travel.

According to insurance experts, more and more people are beginning to understand the need to take up cover against such unforeseen calamities.

“With education, more people are coming forth,” said Ms Kamotho.

“In some countries, it is a mandatory requirement before one can travel.” Currently, Chartis, UAP, and CfC Heritage have such a cover.

The cover provides a 24-hour emergency and medical assistance anywhere in the world. You can enjoy easy and carefree international travel. It also serves as an option by countries that require travel insurance before issuing visa.

“Previously, people only took it up as a mandatory cover. As the economy has grown and people become aware of the risks, more people especially students, corporate organisations are coming through,” said Kamotho.

The cover takes care of travel delays, medical and emergency expenses, hospital allowance, personal accident, cost of obtaining a passport, and baggage loss among other functions.

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