Facilities and Health Information:
Panama City has some very good hospitals and clinics, but medical facilities outside of the capital are limited. Hospitals in Panama are either private hospitals or government-run public hospitals.
Many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service. Medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. In Panama, most hospitals accept credit cards for hospital charges, but not for doctors' fees.
Except for antibiotics and narcotics, most medications are available without a prescription.
The 911 call center also provides ambulance service. However, an ambulance may not always be available and, given difficulties with traffic jams and poor road conditions, there may be a significant delay in response. There are also private ambulance services available on a subscription basis.
Panama is actively promoting medical tourism, and many companies are now offering vacation packages bundled with medical consultations for assisted reproduction technology treatments, dental procedures, and a wide range of plastic surgery. While there are advantages, like affordable costs, quality health care, and a chance to recuperate while vacationing, there are also risks.
Individuals considering plastic surgery should always make sure that emergency medical facilities are available in or near the facility where the surgery will be performed. Some “boutique” plastic surgery operations offer luxurious facilities but are not hospitals and are therefore unable to deal with unforeseen emergencies.
Dengue and Malaria: Prevention of mosquito bites is the best way to avoid these illnesses. Use of topical repellants and wearing long sleeves and pants are recommended in areas affected.
Dengue fever outbreaks have been occurring annually in Panama in both urban and rural areas, this is a mosquito borne virus that can cause fever, severe headache and body aches, it can also cause severe disease with bleeding and even death. Dengue carrying mosquitoes are different than those carrying malaria and bite during the day and frequently live in homes and hotel rooms.
Malaria, also mosquito borne, occurs in rural areas of Panama. Malaria in Panama is almost exclusively P. vivax (P. falciparum transmission is minimal and limited to areas east of the Canal Zone). Transmission occurs throughout the year.
Malaria Chemoprophylaxis is recommended for all travelers: throughout the provinces and comarcas of Darién, Kuna Yala (including the San Blas Islands), Kuna de Madugandi, Kuna de Wargandi, and –Emberá.
Protective measures: Evening and nighttime insect precautions are essential in areas with any level of malaria transmission. Atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone or generic), doxycycline, and mefloquine are protective east of the Canal Zone. For the exceptional case of a vulnerable traveler with underlying medical conditions and/or the potential for an especially adverse outcome from malaria, chloroquine and other antimalarials (atovaquone/proguanil, doxycycline, and mefloquine) are protective west of the Canal Zone. Drug choice should be discussed with your medical provider before travel.
Traveler's Diarrhea: Moderate risk exists even in deluxe accommodations; high risk exists elsewhere. Food and beverage precautions are essential to reduce the likelihood of illness. Diarrhea risk can be minimized by avoiding fresh fruit and vegetables that cannot be peeled or are not cooked and served hot. Tap water is not safe to drink in many areas of Panama, and visitors should use bottled water. Traveling with antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin or levofloxacin and the antimotility agent loperamide in case of diarrhea should be considered.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Tuberculosis is significantly more common in Panama than in the US. Although no particular precautions are recommended those with extended stays (more than 3 months) or extensive contact with disadvantaged populations should discuss with their medical provider TB testing before and after their travel to Panama.
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