Health care and safety in Benin
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer and trainee. Medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative approach to disease. The medical unit in Cotonou is staffed by two full-time doctors, one receptionist, and two laboratory technologists. Limited laboratory testing and radiographic studies are also available at local facilities. If a Volunteer becomes seriously ill, the Volunteer will be transported to either a regionally approved facility or to another country as determined by the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C.
- 1 Health Issues in Benin
- 2 Women’s Health Information
- 3 Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
- 4 Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
- 5 Safety and Security—Our Partnership
- 6 Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
- 7 Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
- 8 Support from Staff
- 9 What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
- 10 Security Issues in Benin
- 11 Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
- 12 Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Safety Support in Benin
Health Issues in Benin
The biggest issue while on the Peace Corps is the volunteer's safety and health. Unfortunately, the majority of volunteers do get some form of disease that affects citizens of underdeveloped countries. The most common minor health problems here are similar to those found in the United States, such as colds, diarrhea, constipation, skin infections, sinus infections, headaches, dental problems, minor injuries, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), adjustment disorders, emotional problems, and alcohol abuse. These common problems may be somewhat more frequent or compounded by life in Benin due to a host of environmental factors here that raise the risk and/or exacerbate the severity of illness and injuries.
Major health problems among Peace Corps Volunteers in Benin often the result of a Volunteer not taking preventive measures to stay healthy. The major health concerns here are worms, malaria, amoebic dysentery, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS.
Because malaria is endemic in Benin, anti-malarial pills are required. You will also be vaccinated against yellow fever; hepatitis B and A; meningitis A and C; tetanus/diphtheria; typhoid; polio; mumps, measles, and rubella; and rabies.
Amoebic dysentery can be avoided by thoroughly washing and drying fruits and vegetables and by only drinking boiled and filtered water. You will receive a thorough orientation to food and water preparation during your visit.
Women’s Health Information
pregnancy is a health condition that is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions requiring medical attention, but may also affect your continued ability to serve as a Volunteer. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps medical and programmatic standards for continued service can be met. The majority of Volunteers who become pregnant are medically separated.
Feminine hygiene products are available in Cotonou, but can be expensive. Peace Corps/Benin stocks four types of birth control pills: Ortho Tri-cyclen, Yasmin/Jasmin, Lo/Ovral, and Alesse. If you use a different brand, please work with your doctor and change to one of these before you depart.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a medical kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
Your medical kit may contain the following items depending on availability:
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg
Insect repellent stick
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Oral rehydration salts and Gatorade
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactic (antifungal cream)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since the time you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid duplicate vaccinations, you should contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and take it to your pre-departure orientation (staging). If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, we cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your pre-departure orientation or shortly after you arrive in Benin. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-the-counter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months— you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. Johns’ wort, glucosamine, selenium, or anti-oxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, although it might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about your three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring an extra pair. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the U.S. provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. To reduce the risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease, we discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless their use has been recommended by an ophthalmologist for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure.
The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age and/or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk.
Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.
Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: Assaults usually occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a "dummy" wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed. After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provides support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/ trainees in Benin as compared to all other Africa region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps' classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-aday, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Security Issues in Benin
As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Benin. When it comes to your safety and security, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking advance precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities, but it does occur. Tourist attractions, especially in large towns, are favorite work sites for pickpockets. Normal precautions usually reduce most risks.
Because you are a foreigner and probably considered “rich,” your new home may be more prone to break-ins than those of your neighbors. Fortunately violent crime is not a severe problem. Benin is considered safe, although Cotonou has seen a marked increase in theft and harassment of Volunteers. The Peace Corps recommends that you do not go out alone at night, especially in larger towns. It is also preferable to travel in groups.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large responsibility for our own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Benin, do what you would do if you moved to a large U.S. city: Be cautious, check things out, ask lots of questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be alert. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by local law and Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Benin will require that you accept some restrictions to your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention in large cities and their sites, but receive far more negative attention in highly populated centers where they are anonymous than in smaller towns where “family,” friends, and colleagues will look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and don’t respond to such negative and unwanted attention. Keep your money out of sight; do not keep it in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. Use an undergarment money pouch, such as the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Safety Support in Benin
The Peace Corps approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing; Volunteer training; site selection criteria; a detailed emergency action plan; and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents. The Benin in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Benin office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be offered in the newsletter and in memoranda from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through an emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Benin. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. Peace Corps staff work closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for your arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting Volunteers. Each site is inspected before your arrival to ensure viable work placements as well as appropriate, safe, and secure housing. Site selection criteria is based in part on relevant site history; safety and security conditions, and other support needs within the resources limits of host communities and Peace Corps.
You will also learn about the Peace Corps/Benin detailed emergency action plan (EAP), which is a guide for reducing your exposure in the event of situations that pose a security risk. You play a crucial role in the success of the EAP. First, when you arrive at your site, you must complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. You must also update your site locator form as often as necessary (e.g. when a new phone is installed in your village, your supervisor gets a cell phone, etc.). If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Benin will gather at predetermined locations until the situation resolves itself or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, in order to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps Safety and Security Coordinator or Duty Officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner. In addition to responding to the needs of the Volunteer, the Peace Corps collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.