Overlooking rare diseases is a risk not worth taking, warns The Health Insurance Group

The world is awash with business opportunities, from exploring natural resources in Antarctica to jumping on the rapid economic growth in Laos and Myanmar,* – controversially or otherwise, companies are always on the lookout for the next big break. Sending staff overseas to explore new ventures is par for the course, and Rare Diseases Day (28 February) should act as a reminder to businesses to protect their employees adequately when working abroad, warns The Health Insurance Group.

1) Thoroughly research countries for health risks

Whilst businesses may provide support with setting up a home and suitable schooling for individuals and their families relocating abroad, health and wellbeing can be overlooked. It’s important that a country is thoroughly researched, to ensure employees are advised about any necessary vaccinations and understand the latest information available about how to stay healthy – such as only drinking bottled water to avoid diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) for the latest information about each country an employee is sent to and encourage them to do the same, so they are equally knowledgeable and informed.

2) Assumption vs fact

Between 2014-2016 the world was gripped with the story of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) later declaring that all known chains of transmission in West Africa had been stopped **, fears around the outbreak remain so severe that travel and tourism have never fully recovered.*** Even 3,000 miles away in Kenya, tourism rates were affected during the outbreak, with safari tours across the whole continent dropping 20-70%.***

It’s important therefore that assumptions are not made about a country or continent before thoroughly researching opportunities and threats. A country may be safe to travel to again, but a long memory may discourage people from doing so. Finding out the most up-to-date information about a country will provide a more accurate overview, whilst enabling employees to protect their health appropriately through the correct advice.


3) Take appropriate measures

Having adequate health insurance in place can provide employees with access to appropriate medical treatment, should they get ill. Areas that they are working in may not have robust medical facilities, so travelling to an appropriate location with medical specialists may be required. Getting sick abroad can be a scary experience, without the familiarity of home and its medical services, so businesses need to ensure that protection is in place should anything happen – providing access to the required treatment as quickly as possible.


4) Worst-case scenario planning

A rare disorder or disease is categorised as one that affects fewer than 1 in 2,000 people in Europe, or fewer than 200,000 in the USA.**** Lack of knowledge can hinder diagnosis, and difficult to reach medical care can delay treatment, so it is vital that businesses have the right tools at their disposal to help employees in times of need. Ensuring evacuation cover is in place, should an employee be in a remote location and need specialist care, can make the difference between life and death.

Sarah Dennis, head of international for The Health Insurance Group said:

“As employers, we have a duty of care to our employees to look after their wellbeing. When sending employees to new countries to explore business opportunities, it’s important that the excitement surrounding the trip doesn’t cloud robust due diligence.

“Ensuring that employees are fully protected against potential health threats, preparing in advance and maintaining knowledge during an assignment, can put individuals in a good position to stay safe. Having health insurance can provide vital access to medical treatment if needed or peace of mind that it’s available should something happen. Whether it’s treating a rare disease or otherwise, it’s good practice to ensure that employees are adequately protected – safe in the knowledge that their health comes first.”



* https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2018/01/05/the-fastest-growing-and-shrinking-economies-in-2018

** https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/14-01-2016-latest-ebola-outbreak-over-in-liberia-west-africa-is-at-zero-but-new-flare-ups-are-likely-to-occur

*** https://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/2018/impact-of-the-ebola-epidemic-on-travel-and-tourism.pdf

**** https://www.rarediseaseday.org/article/what-is-a-rare-disease

About Brett Hill 2 Articles
Brett Hill is Managing Director of the Health Insurance Group. The Health Insurance Group, with headquarters in Southampton and a regional office in Sheffield, combines a whole of market, independent insurance broking service for businesses and individuals throughout the world with specialist health and wellbeing advice and solutions.