Continuing Medical Education

Expedition medicine: A southern African perspective

Ross Hofmeyr, Gela Tölken, Rik De Decker


A growing number of people are undertaking expeditions and adventure travel to previously inaccessible areas. The risks posed by increasing accessibility of remote regions and interest in extreme sports have not been fully obviated by modern equipment and communications. Therefore, there remains a requirement for medical care during wilderness expeditions, for which expectations and formal standards continue to increase. Expedition medicine should take cognisance of the predicted problems, plan for contingencies, and be practised pragmatically in austere settings. Southern African medics have a broad skill set, which makes them ideally suited to the field, but they should seek to understand the epidemiology of expeditions in different environments, undergo specialised training, and become involved in all phases of planning and execution of an expedition. Routine general practice complaints and accidental trauma are ubiquitous; travel medical issues such as blisters, diarrhoea, insomnia, sunburn and dehydration occur commonly; area/activity-specific issues such as infectious disease risks and altitude illnesses must be addressed; and women’s health and dental problems are frequently overlooked. The expedition medic plays a wide range of roles, and should have knowledge and skills to match the requirements of the expedition. Fortunately, many resources exist to assist medics in becoming competent in the field.

Authors' affiliations

Ross Hofmeyr, Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town; WildMedix, Cape Town, South Africa

Gela Tölken, WildMedix, Cape Town; Mountain Club of South Africa, Mountain Rescue, Hottentots-Holland Section, Cape Town, South Africa

Rik De Decker, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, and Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

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Expedition medicine; Southern Africa

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2017;107(8):659-663. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2017.v107i8.12676

Article History

Date submitted: 2017-07-28
Date published: 2017-07-28

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