Overseas volunteers risk health

Cathy O'Leary Medical Editor

A surge in "voluntourism" is putting more West Australians at risk of diseases and infections from doing volunteer work overseas.

Doctors say a growing number of students and business people are volunteering in developing countries, with unpaid work becoming an important part of a resume or curriculum vitae.

But many are heading overseas naive about the potential hazards, particularly school and university students who lack experience travelling and sometimes go without key vaccinations because they are on a shoestring budget.

Fremantle travel medicine physician David Rutherford said the number of people volunteering overseas had been increasing, with many combining it with a holiday.

While some sought travel health advice, others had unrealistic expectations. Travel insurance was essential, Dr Rutherford said.

Depending on their location, they might need preventive medication for malaria and vaccinations against tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella, hepatitis A, typhoid, cholera, rabies, influenza and meningococcal disease.