Health in Ethiopia, like in any other developing country, deserves a chapter of its own.
It is always advisable to hire insurance services when traveling abroad. For a fair amount of money you can avoid headaches and high bills. Health in Ethiopia is not very expensive, generally speaking, but you never know: you may get caught in and accident or in an undesired situation that may required attention, major surgery or even repatriation. I am, so far, a happy client of “IATI seguros”, a Spanish based insurance company that offers good services for good prices. Lucky me I haven’t had the need of calling them yet, but multiple bloggers refer to them as a reliable, quick to answer and pretty decent company that has one big advantage above others: you won’t have to advance the money in case of an incident, which is good, right? They have different prices for students, bloggers and regular travelers, and offer numerous discounts and affiliation programs.
Ethiopia has some vaccination requirements that are mandatory (others are simply advised). At least a month before your coming, you should check with your country’s international center of vaccination so that they tell you which shots are needed for the country you are visiting. For Ethiopia, these include, measles, tetanus, varicella (chickenpox), polio and your yearly flu shot. Apart from these, Hepatitis A and typhoid are highly advised. Finally and only for some those that are going to endangered areas or are naturally very cautious, they can also do cholera, rabies, yellow fever, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, and bring a dose of prescribed prophylaxis if traveling to a Malaria zones (Addis is malaria-free). As you see, there is quite a lot here to consider and having this doses taken in advance can help you prevent side effects during your stay, which can be very annoying (even though some of them are available in Ethiopia at a subsidized price, which is ridiculously cheap compared to other countries!).
Anyways, to make sure of what you need you may want to have a look at this site: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/ethiopia#vaccines-and-medicines
One of the reasons why these countries have such a big mortality rate is because of the lack of hygiene. This can be explained by the lack of education (a big deal is being done by the government and NGOs to facilitate information to people regarding this issue) or lack of resources: toilets, for example. In Ethiopia, it is very common to see people doing their businesses in the streets. which in my opinion does not necessarily mean lack of infrastructure (that yes) but also lack of awareness and respect for your country mates.
When this is translated to food, imagine the disaster that this can cause in your body system (and this is how you can get typhoid, for example). One thing you should know is that in Ethiopia most people eat with their hands (no silverware at all) so it is a must that you wash your hands before and after eating (even more when you share dishes).
If searching for one, it is not difficult to find half-decent toilets in town, but as you go deeper into the countryside, it will be more of a challenge. Get ready to use, probably for the first time in your life, a latrine, which basically is a hole in the ground where people do their things and where the stuff stays accumulated until is full, when a track comes and pipes it out. I have learned by experience that in latrines it is much easier to go to the toilet than in an normal WC, for the physiognomy of the body. However, you’ve got to be ready to stand the smell!!! 🙂
Toilet paper shall be ALWAYS in your bag. You never know when Ethiopian food is going to betray you and don’t be surprise if there is no paper in the toilets as they normally use water for cleaning purposes. If you are like me and you are a toilet paper regular user, you want to have one always with you. And I insist, always!
Sanitizer is also recommended in case you need to disinfect your hands where no reliable source of water is available.
Generally speaking, Ethiopia has a poor health care system and hospitals may lack professionals or facilities in different fields. Many graduated doctors flee the country in search of better opportunities. and that explains an estimation of a ratio of 2.6 physician per 100,000 inhabitants in Ethiopia.
Common risks include: traffic accidents, water and food related diseases (typhus, typhoid fever, cholera), STDs like HIV-AIDS, etc. What to do about it? Well, being aware of these things and applying common sense: drink bottled water, avoid salads, make sure that the food is properly cooked, try to make sure that you eat in places where you would trust the kitchen (have a look at the toilet, it’s always good indicator of their cleaning standards), avoid unprotected sex, and hire well rated guides / tourist companies who drive safely.
Basic treatment for injuries and accidents are available at any given health clinic, but major surgery can be a challenge and many people who can afford it do medical tourism to neighboring countries like Kenya or further Asian destinations like India or Thailand.
Having said this, make sure you have an international insurance that covers accidents in Ethiopia (even though simple treatment may be relatively cheap here). Ethiopia lacks a working centralized emergency number such as the by-all-known 911, which makes things difficult for the new comer in case of emergencies, having to rely on the locals to take you to the police or to call the ambulance or firemen.
Curious Legend: I was told once that if you have the unfortunate event of hitting and killing somebody on the road outside Addis (an animal, a person, whatever) you should not get off the car and help, as the locals around will beat you to death; rather, you stop in the next town and communicate whatever happened to the police station and assume the consequences (compensation? jail?). This has always puzzled me and since I still did not encounter the situation I do not know what would I do when it happens (if it happens), if following my instincts and obligations of helping the person I just injured (or killed) or follow the locals’ advice and care for my life. I apologize for not being able to tell you more here, but I’m confident that outside Addis, if you are traveling with a guide or a driver, they should know where the nearest hospital or police station are located and guide you through.
Finally, for those sticking around the capital, I include here a list of numbers that can be somehow helpful: ambulance, firemen, police, hospitals, airlines (may need an urgent ticket) and tourist office: