Medical kit list for families travelling Africa

Medical kit list for families travelling Africa

A good medical kit list is imperative for any travel to Africa. But with kids in tow there is even more to consider, as good medical care is not always on hand and kids can be unpredictable at the best of times. So in preparation for our African overland adventures Joanne from Southern Sands Safaris has written this knowledgable guest post detailing a comprehensive medical kit list for families travelling Africa.

We are a family that has travelled Africa on guided tours and independently, often to remote areas where you are far from medical care.

We currently live in the bush on a nature reserve about 45-50 minutes from town and the nearest doctors. We have paramedics on speed dial that can get to us within 15-20 minutes; a long time if your child has been bitten by a snake, stung by a scorpion or sustained an injury that needs medical attention. The stuff we have in our kit does not replace calling a doctor or paramedic, but it should be enough to help you through until you can get medical attention.

First Aid book for children

The first thing on my list is a simple first aid book for children. It gives simple and clear instructions on what to do in those emergency situations. Because it is British it doesn’t cover Snake Bites or Scorpion stings.

Basic first aid kit

This is my first aid kit (photo below) and it is quite neatly packaged up. You can buy a similar kit here. I have this at home and if we go out for the day or a long weekend then it is easy to carry with me. It has all the basics and I have added a few things to it I find useful.

Medical kit list for families travelling Africa

In the Medical Kit I have the usual range of bandages, sterile dressings, alcohol wipes, ice pack, saline solution, plasters, adult paracetamol and ibuprofen, tweezers and scissors.


I have added Dioralyte. This is an electrolyte powder you add to water and will help to rehydrate your children. I live in a hot part of the world and diarrhoea and sickness in children can quickly become serious.

Calpol and Iboprofen

I have sachets of Calpol and children’s ibuprofen. These fit much better into the first aid kit than bottles. The dosage is set at 5ml, so it can be difficult to administer 2.5ml. High fever is something that needs to be brought down quickly so having these on hand is really helpful.

Extras for the medical kit

Cohesive bandage tape is actually something the vets always used on our dogs. It’s great stuff as it sticks to itself. You have to be careful not to make it too tight as with heat it shrinks. Just place it around the injury and use your hands to heat it up so that it molds into place. No more fiddling with tape or safety pins!

For some reason as soon as we take a break we get sore throats. Tyrozets are great for adults. You cannot give them to children.

Antiseptic is really important. I am sure the heat is to blame again, but wounds seem get infected very quickly here. I also pack a thermometer, Micropore for the normal bandages, and this mosquito repellent (its totally natural so super good for babies and young children).

Sterile medical kit

If we are going off the beaten track to a country with poor medical facilities then we always carry our own sterile medical kit. This is not something that you would use yourself, but rather give to a doctor to use.

Tea tree oil

Tea Tree oil is another great antiseptic, but also works a treat to take the itch out of mosquito bites.

Malaria test kit

A malaria test kit is another essential I have in my kit. Symptoms of malaria are very similar to the flu (fever, chills, continual headache). The doctors here aren’t always open at a weekend or even over the holiday periods, so having this test to hand helps to quickly check if you need to seek urgent medical assistance.

Tick removal tool

Ticks are an issue here, as is tick bite fever (caused by the pepper tick – another reason to get fever checkout by your doctor). I hate ticks and removing them can be difficult. You don’t want to do it incorrectly, so a tick removal tool is great and it’s painless.

Snakes and scorpions

It is worth buying a good snake and scorpion identification book, as identification of a snake or scorpion if stung is important for treatment. Try and remember every detail of a snake if you are bitten. I must urge that snake and scorpoion bites are very rare and the majority of families who travel Africa don’t even come across a snake or scorpion. Snake bites usually happen when someone is trying to catch a snake.


We have some deadly snakes in South Africa and they have venom that works in two ways. Some venom works on cells killing cytotoxin and usually you would have a few hours as an adult to seek medical attention; children considerable less. The other type of venom is a neurotoxin. This works on your nervous system. It can reduce or stop breathing and stop your heart working.

Three snakes we worry about here are the:

  1. Mozambique Spitting Cobra
    If they spit in your eye, wash it out with a LOT of water and seek medical advice. The venom is mainly a cytotoxin, so the quicker you seek medical attention the better. It does have neurotoxin as well, so you may suffer from breathing difficulties and drowsiness.
  2. Black Mumba
    They are actually not black; the name comes from the black inside their mouths. These are big, up to 4m long and fast snakes. They are generally olive brown to grey in colour and shy in nature unless cornered. Their venom is a cardiotoxin and neurotoxin. Children have a matter of minutes if this snake bites them as the venom is very toxic. Carry out CPR, until you get medical assistance.
  3. Puff Adder
    Puff adders are ambush hunters, so are often trodden on, which is when they strike in self-defense. Consequently, it is the most dangerous snake in Africa. The venom is a cytotoxin and if a bite is left untreated it can kill. The symptoms can include severe pain, swelling, blistering, nausea, vomiting and later on necrosis with massive muscle and tissue damage.
What to do if bitten by a snake

With all snakebites they are very rare, but if they do occur, call a paramedic, immobilise the patient (they are not to walk or move), keep them calm, DO NOT APPLY A TORNIQU. If possible, keep their heart above the bite site, and check their breathing.  Try to ID the snake or scorpion taking a picture if you can without risking yourself. 

Keeping children calm when they have been bitten will be quite a challenge, particularly young ones. So I have a few balloons and lollies my medical kit to help. Thankfully these are not tried and tested, but I am hoping that they might help. The lollies have been spotted by the boys and they work well if they have hurt themselves badly.


A simple rule to follow with scorpions is that if they have little pincers and a thick tail they are going to be more dangerous than ones with a small tail and large pincers.

The one on the right is a parabuthus. It is particularly dangerous to the very young or infirm. With Scorpions size matters; the bigger the scorpion the more sting they can deliver.

What to do if bitten by a scorpion

If you are stung by a scorpion with a small tail it is going to be very painful, but you usually do not require medical attention (although very young and infirm are more at risk). You can take an antihistamine and charcoal tablet, and a soak in hot water should alleviate the pain (the hot water breaks down the proteins, which the sting is made up from). But if you are in any doubt contact a medical professional as each person can react differently to stings.

The same applies if a thick tailed scorpion stings you, but you MUST contact a GP.

Teaching our children about snakes and scorpions

We have spent quite a lot of time educating our children what to do if they find a snake or scorpion. When I have found a scorpion I have shown it to them and talked about what they should do. Leave it alone and come and find mummy or daddy. We have a local reptile centre and whenever we visit we drum in the advice – If you see a snake STOP, then SLOWLY WALK AWAY, and come and find Mummy or Daddy.

Snakes are scared of us, so if we threaten them they will attack as a form of self-defense; so it is really important that children do not try to poke or annoy them in any way. Snakes are deaf, so noise isn’t an issue. Again if we see a little snake and it’s not venomous a one, then we show the boys and check with them that they understand what to do. Our youngest was two years old when we came here, with no bush or snake experience, and he quickly understood what to do.

The boys are also not allowed to play in long grass, just in case they accidentally stand on a snake.


Disclaimer: Neither Joanne nor myself are medical experts, however the content (including snake and scorpion advice) has been checked over by a doctor. This post was put together by a Mum who lives in the African bush and all suggestions are from her own experience. This post should not replace any advice from a trained medical professional. Please seek advice from your doctor. Also, this post contains affiliate links. Should you purchase anything from this page, I get a small commission that goes towards our African camping fees.

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  1. Pam Goward

    Excellent advice. Would definitely include Immodium. Wouldn’t leave the country or house without it.

  2. So interesting and sort of scary, but it is so important to be prepared for every eventuality x

    • TraveLynn Family

      Exactly. You just never know. The vast majority of families who travel to Africa have no problems whatsoever. Although Australia has lots of deadly animals and we were never as preapred!

  3. I always take a first aid kit with all the essentials you mentioned whenever we go on holiday and I keep meaning to put one in my car too for if we’re out on a day trip. We’ve not been to Africa or anywhere with snakes and scorpions with our kids but if we ever do I’ll keep all of this advice in mind. I travelled round Australia (pre kids) and thankfully didn’t see anything scary (apart from a redback spider in a toilet that I very swiftly exited!)

    • TraveLynn Family

      Redback spider!? Gah! That must have frightened the living day lights out of you!

  4. Such a handy packing list! We always take Call with us no matter where we are travelling. Good tip about the Tea Tree oil!

    • TraveLynn Family

      Us too – Calpol is an absolute essential. And yes – I never knew tea tree oil was good for insect bites!

  5. oh my goodness! It is so exciting but also a little scary at the same time. The snakes and scorpions freak me out slightly, especially when I found one in the shower with me when we did a safari many moons ago! You definitely need to be prepared though ! I can’t wait to follow your trip x

    • TraveLynn Family

      Oh my! Was it a snake or scorpion in the shower with you? What did you do?! But yes – a little preparation goes a long way 🙂

  6. Living in Bayern we had to have a first aid kit at all times in our car, and I also put a tick pen in there too as well as calpol & ibuprofen and mosquito bite stuff (they have a huge problem with ticks!) but nothing as exotic as snake and scorpion books! So exciting though!! 😀

    • TraveLynn Family

      Did you ever have to use the tick pen? I need to work out how to use it – although hoping it’s never actually needed!

  7. Let’s hope you never have to use any of these things Jenny.

    • TraveLynn Family

      Oh gosh yes! Although I’m sure a few plasters and a shot of Calpol at least will be required along the road 😉

  8. This is good advice, as there’s sometimes a lot of planning involved when visiting certain African countries. It took me a while to puzzle it out when I went to southern Africa, and that was before I had any kids in tow!

  9. A really good comprehensive list of Must Have’s. I usually print off details of nearest Dr, hospital too- just in case the signal is too poor for WiFI but just enough to make a call.

  10. Great list. I still carry an inhaler for my son whenever we go somewhere, even though he seems to have grown out of needing it and it’s gathered dust for 3 years, peace of mind is a great thing!

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