A good first aid kit for Africa is imperative. 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.
In preparation for our 101 days self-driving Africa overland with our boys I consulted Joanne from Southern Sands Safaris, a mum who lives in South Africa and travels a lot with her young boys. Big thanks to Joanne for this knowledgeable guest post. This is also useful if you’re looking for a safari first aid kit list and should be a standard inclusion for any Africa kit.
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 Africa first aid 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 basic 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.
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.
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.
First aid kit for Africa extras
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
As part of your first aid kit for Africa, 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 first aid kit for Africa 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.
You may also like to read:
Self drive Africa overland with kids: everything you need to know
Africa packing list: the ultimate packing list for overlanding Africa
Namibia with kids: Part 5 of our Africa overland itinerary