IAMAT's Ounce of Prevention

Jun 1, 2000

Traveling where you don't have enough command of the local language to communicate what ails you with an in-country doctor? You need the lifeline package, including the contact data on English-speaking physicians, available through the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT), the not-for-profit information center located in Canada and still run by Ms. Ufer-Marcolongo, the surviving wife of the physician-founder, now deceased.

I happened upon IAMAT while doing work on international disease control. My concern was endemic plague among rodentia on the Canadian side of the US-Canadian border. A UK employee's wife was going to do exploratory work on rodents in BC, and the employee asked whether it was safe to do so. I found plenty of evidence dictating caution, and the Canadian authorities were in a state of denial. In the process that followed, Mrs. Ufer-Marcolongo and I worked closely together to assure that the proper alerts were made so that hikers and researchers were made aware of the potential for the disease. Canada, reluctant to admit to the problem until then, reacted swiftly once the evidence was made public. Plague, after all these years, is still with us, and precautions are no laughing matter. (In fact, Mexico is now also in denial.)

What impressed me about IAMAT as I grew to know it was its scope -- which is now worldwide. It began as an attempt to deal with the radical differences in immune systemics between North and South Americans but came to focus on putting English-only speakers in touch with local physicians who also spoke English fluently. IAMAT can help if you are interested in knowing the prevalence of rare diseases. (It is a good second to CDC on that.) One thing more -- IAMAT is an honest broker. Meticulous, informed, careful.

Apply for membership well before your trip abroad (the fee is nominal), and you will receive the packet in the mail. I am a member. You should carry IAMAT's small-print data sheets with you when you travel. They may prove essential to your health.

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