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IAMAT – Avoiding Medical Disasters

by Fred Perry

Although most travellers purchase some form of international medical insurance before setting out, that isn’t the only thing to consider. How about knowing precisely what health hazards exist wherever you’re headed, so you can take the right preventative steps in advance? Once abroad, what if you wake up with some illness that you can’t quite define, and you don’t know if it’s serious enough to warrant phoning your insurer? And how can you be sure that a doctor or clinic in a far-off land speaks your language, or has the latest medical information? This is especially important when you are travelling to a number of countries with a wide variety of medical standards. You can avoid all these difficulties by doing as my wife and I did a decade ago: join the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT).

What is IAMAT?
IAMAT was founded in 1960 by Dr Vincenzo Marcolongo, a Toronto physician who foresaw that increased worldwide mobility would mean that doctors would need to be able to diagnose and treat illnesses previously foreign to them. To paraphrase the aims stated in their Charter, IAMAT planned to validate, and where necessary improve, the training of doctors around the globe; and make up-to-date preventative and consultative information available to travellers.

For the travelling public, their most important role would be to give advice about health risks, immunization requirements for all countries, and the geographical distribution of diseases; and to make competent medical care available around the world by Western-trained doctors who can speak English and who adhere to an agreed-upon standard list of medical fees for their services.

IAMAT started small but has acquired broad international support from prestigious boards of directors and medical advisors. It has continued to expand its services, and now has offices in Canada, the USA, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

What do I get from IAMAT?
If you join you’ll receive several benefits:

  1. An annual membership card guaranteeing services by accredited doctors at fixed IAMAT rates.
  2. A traveller’s clinical record to be completed by your own doctor, which will give any foreign doctor your complete medical history, allergies, dosages, etc.
  3. A World Directory which guides members to centres and participating physicians in 373 cities in 110 countries (as of 2001) from A to Z, with their names, addresses and phone numbers.
  4. An extremely thorough World Immunization Chart advising on immunizations for 200 countries and regions.
  5. A World Malaria Risk Chart and Protection Guide providing current information about the type of malaria-carrying mosquito (there are several) encountered in different countries and areas, and both the mechanical and pharmaceutical protections to be used. (Malaria is still one of the world’s most deadly diseases).
  6. Other charts providing information on risks such as Schistosomiasis and Chagas’ disease, as well as world climate charts detailing food, clothing, and sanitary conditions everywhere.

What does IAMAT cost?
By now you’re likely figuring that this is a service only for the well-heeled. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is no charge, but they will suggest a donation, which will be gratefully acknowledged with a receipt for income tax purposes. Although we’ve never had to use their services, for years we’ve been making a modest annual donation, knowing that it has helped others when they were in need. Surely anybody planning a trip around the world can afford to make a contribution to get all these benefits in return!

For more information, including how to join, go to

Just to be clear, Fred Perry doesn’t work with IAMAT or anything like that. He and his wife have used their services for a long time, and he wanted to tell you that they may be worth checking out before your next trip.