Sri Lanka – Health and Safety
The US Center For Disease Control maintains an updated list of medical advice for those traveling to Sri Lanka.
The CDC recommends being up to date with all your regular shots. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot
They also suggest be vaccinated for hepatitis A. There is also some advice about protection for hepatitis B and rabies – but this depends to some degree on where you are heading and what you are doing.
The CDC also suggests vaccinations for rabies and Japanese encephalitis. Also, if you are travelling from a country where yellow fever is active you will need a vaccination for this.
Additionally, dengue fever is a risk in Sri Lanka so avoiding being bitten by mosquitos is advised.
Medical care, and its cost, is hugely variable in Sri Lanka. Colombo has some good clinics aimed at expats; they’re worth using over options aimed at locals because a superior standard of care is offered. Nawaloka Hospital in Colombo also has a good reputation and English-speaking doctors. Embassies and consulates often have lists of recommended medical providers. Elsewhere in Sri Lanka, hotels and guesthouses can usually steer you to a local doctor for at least initial treatment.
Self-treatment may be appropriate if your problem is minor (eg traveller’s diarrhoea). If you think you may have a serious disease, especially malaria, do not waste time: travel to the nearest quality facility to receive attention. It is always better to be assessed by a doctor than to rely on self-treatment.
Before buying medication over the counter, always check the use-by date and ensure the packet is sealed. Colombo and larger towns all have good pharmacies; most medications can be purchased without a prescription.
Ayurveda (eye-your-veda) is an ancient system of medicine using herbs, oils, metals and animal products to heal and rejuvenate. Influenced by the system of the same name in India, Ayurveda is widely used in Sri Lanka for a range of ailments.
Ayurveda postulates that the five elements (earth, air, ether, water and light) are linked to the five senses, which in turn shape the nature of an individual’s constitution – his or her dosha (life force). Disease and illness occurs when the dosha is out of balance. The purpose of Ayurvedic treatment is to restore the balance.
For full-on therapeutic treatments, patients must be prepared to make a commitment of weeks or months. It’s a gruelling regimen featuring frequent enemas and a bare minimum diet of simple vegetable-derived calories.
Much more commonly, tourists treat themselves at Ayurvedic massage centres attached to major hotels and in popular tourist centres. Full treatments take up to three hours and include the following relaxing regimens:
Tap water is not safe to drink. Use bottled or filtered water; for the former, look for the small round ‘SLSI’ logo, which shows the water has been tested by the government’s Sri Lanka Standards Institution (the majority of local brands).
Most restaurants seem to maintain a fairly high level of hygiene – especially in tourist areas. The biggest risk is getting a dose of travellers’ diarrhoea.
This is by far the most common problem affecting travellers in Sri Lanka. It’s usually caused by bacteria, and thus responds promptly to treatment with antibiotics.
Traveller’s diarrhoea is defined as the passage of more than three watery bowel actions within 24 hours, plus at least one other symptom, such as fever, cramps, nausea, vomiting or feeling generally unwell.
Treatment consists of staying well hydrated; rehydration solutions like Gastrolyte are the best for this. Antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin or azithromycin should kill the bacteria quickly. Seek medical attention quickly if you do not respond to an appropriate antibiotic.
Here is a link to the US State Department Travel Advisory for Sri Lanka for the latest information on travelling to Sri Lanka.
The emergency numbers in Sri Lanka are:
- Police Emergency Hotline 118 / 119
- Ambulance / Fire & rescue 110
Our personal experience of Sri Lanka that it is generally a safe place, and we felt very comfortable walking around. But, nowhere is totally safe. In April 2019 there were bomb attacks in Colombo targetting tourists and Christians and 250 people died. There was a crackdown and the suspected terrorists were captured or killed – but it goes to show that this stuff can happen. That said very few places are totally safe and most countries are potential targets for terrorism.
Another potential danger is from natural disasters. Sri Lankan can suffer from torrential rains, particularly in the monsoon season, which can result is rapid flooding with a risk to life. Additionally, the coastline can be impacted from tsunamis resulting from earthquakes in the Asia region. The last major tsunami to hit Sri Lanka was 2004, resulting in 30,000 people loosing their lives.