There has been little research to date on the use of medicines and first aid supplies by travelers. In some developing countries such products may be difficult to obtain, and there is the danger that substandard medicines may be purchased. As space for medical supplies in the luggage of many individuals, particularly backpackers, may be restricted, it is important to identify correctly those items most likely to be needed.
The aim of this study was to survey a cohort of travelers from the UK visiting a variety of destinations in developing countries, regarding the medical supplies taken and used during their trip.
Travelers visiting a specialist travel pharmacy in London, UK were recruited consecutively into the study. Only those planning to visit destinations in South America, Asia, Africa or the Middle East for ≥2 weeks and returning to the UK were included. Participants were handed a questionnaire to be posted back when they returned to the UK, asking them to note those items that they included in the kit, those actually used, and any others obtained while they were away. All subjects had consulted the pharmacist concerning the medical kit appropriate for their trip.
Two hundred and ninety-nine travelers volunteered to take part, of whom 127 returned the postal questionnaire. Analgesics and medication for the treatment of diarrhea were most likely to be used, but many types of wound dressing were unlikely to be required. Twenty individuals (16%) required antibiotics, with eight people purchasing them while they were away. Thirty-two (31%) individuals did not use insect repellents despite traveling to potentially malaria-endemic countries. Only seven subjects purchased any other items while they were away.
The items most likely to be required by travelers to developing countries are analgesics, treatments for diarrhea, antiseptics and sticking plasters. The provision of antibiotics to certain travelers is probably justified.