Medical Care During Service

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In every post where Volunteers serve abroad, the Peace Corps maintains a health unit staffed by two or more health-care providers, called Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs).

Video: Health coverage and primary care during service

These, often local, health-care providers are highly qualified professionals who are all carefully evaluated and credentialed by the Peace Corps. They provide direct medical care, train Volunteers on staying healthy, teach basic medical skills, and provide supplies to support Volunteer health. PCMOs are the first providers consulted for any medical issues and are on call 24/7 for emergencies.

If a Volunteer becomes ill and the required care exceeds the capacity of the medical program in the country of service, the Peace Corps will transport the Volunteer to an appropriate facility in a nearby country or to the U.S. The Peace Corps assumes the costs of any necessary or appropriate medical and dental treatment provided during Peace Corps service. The quality of medical care at the posts is monitored regularly by the Peace Corps Office of Health Services.

Prevention: Helping you stay healthy

Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive approach to disease. The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary vaccinations, medications, and information to stay healthy during service. Please note that vaccinations are mandatory.

Upon your arrival in-country, you will participate in eight to 12 weeks of extensive Pre-Service Training. Much of this training focuses on illness prevention, recognition and management, and includes basic first aid skills. Your PCMO will orient you to the most common illnesses and injuries in your country of service and educate you on resources to promote your health during service. Additionally, you will receive a country-specific medical handbook and medical kit with supplies to address mild illnesses and injuries. View the contents of the kit.

At mid-service and at the end of your service, you will have a physical examination and labs, if needed. Throughout service, you will have access to the PCMO on an as-needed basis for acute and chronic disease care. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the PCMO in your host country will consult with the Office of Health Services in Washington, D.C., or a Regional Medical Officer (RMO). If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in-country, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care. Please refer to the medical evacuation section for further information.

If you are concerned about the care you are receiving from the PCMO or an in-country provider, contact the Office of Medical Services Quality Nurse Line at [email protected].

As a Volunteer, you must accept considerable responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. This becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities do not meet U.S. standards.

Many illnesses that affect Volunteers worldwide are preventable with regular handwashing, being careful about eating food, and treating drinking water. These gastrointestinal illnesses include food poisoning, giardia, and travelers’ diarrhea. Your PCMO will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation during pre-service training.

Mosquito-borne illness is a risk in tropical areas. Some illnesses such as malaria are preventable if you take medication. Peace Corps supplies malaria prevention medication and while you will have a choice of options, compliance with a method is mandatory. There is no vaccine for Zika, Chikungunya, and Dengue fever. However, minimizing mosquito bites is possible by consistently applying mosquito repellent, wearing protective clothing regularly treated with insecticide (permethrin), and sleeping under an insecticide treated bednet.

To reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like HIV and unplanned pregnancy, using a condom every time you have sex and adhering to an effective means of birth control is recommended. Condoms are provided free of charge from the health unit. You will have the opportunity for STI screening at your mid-service and close of service physicals. Any additional requests for STI screening will be evaluated based upon risk and on a case-by-case basis. HIV pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP and PEP) will be provided if medically appropriate. Your PCMO can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs.

To reduce the risk of infections with respiratory pathogens, hand hygiene, physical distancing, and use of masks in public settings are critically important.

It is essential to your health that you receive all mandatory immunizations and take all required medications. Equally important is that you follow the guidance from your PCMO, who will be your primary care provider during your Peace Corps service. Non-compliance with their instructions and lack of adherence to required medications can result in administrative or medical separation.

Behavioral health: Prevention

Behavioral health is the impact of behavior on emotional well-being and physical health. It includes everything from your work engagement, social connections, wellness routine, good nutrition and sleep, to regular exercise. These factors contribute to your sense of purpose and your emotional and physical health. Behavioral health and well-being are essential to your adjustment and success in Peace Corps service. The foundation of Volunteer behavioral health is self-awareness and self-management, an approach consistent with preventive care and the promotion of well-being. Peace Corps provides resources to enhance your ability to meet new challenges and stay healthy, with an emphasis on evidence-based resilience skill building and positive coping strategies. Volunteers are encouraged to establish and build a healthy interpersonal support network including friends and family, host families, fellow Volunteers, and Peace Corps staff. A selection of multimedia e-resources are available to you 24/7, including videos, apps, podcasts, and short readings. These resources can support your behavioral health and help address adjustment challenges.

Your PCMO will be the primary point of contact for emotional support you may need to address concerns related to stress and adjustment throughout your service. PCMOs can also guide you to other sources of support (eg. Post staff, Peer Support Network) and provide referrals for specialized behavioral health care, if appropriate. The majority of Volunteer behavioral health concerns can be managed in-country with this individualized approach.

Behavioral health: Care

If you require behavioral health treatment during service, a plan of care is developed in consultation with the PCMO and periodically amended based on a range of factors. These include, but are not limited to, the severity of the concerns, your response to treatment and preference for care, and the unique conditions of your environment. The PCMO may refer you for additional evaluation and/or behavioral health care if it is clinically indicated. Typically, short-term therapy provides a Volunteer with the needed coping skills to restore well-being and complete their Peace Corps assignment. When a Volunteer’s behavioral health needs exceed the availability and resources in-country, a medical evacuation to the U.S. for intensive treatment may be necessary.

Dental care

As a Volunteer, you will be provided a dental exam and cleaning at mid-service and again at close of service. Routine dental exams are not provided every six months. Dental treatment for urgent and emergent issues will be treated in country if the resources are available. If services are unavailable, a medical evacuation to another country may be necessary.

Medications and prescriptions

During service, the Peace Corps will provide all FDA-approved medications for you. However, receipt of the medications you need will take time, so you must bring a three- month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use. Once you arrive in country, your PCMOs will review your medical history and medication needs, and they will order your medication(s). During this time, you will be dependent upon the medication you brought with you. Prescriptions must be in the original, labeled bottle from the pharmacy. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service. Please note that medications supplied during service will typically be generic or therapeutically equivalent to your current medications.

If you have been medically cleared by Peace Corps to take a controlled substance medication for a chronic medical condition, including but not limited to ADHD (attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder) medications, you must carry a signed letter from your prescribing medical provider documenting your use. The letter must include your name, the name of the medication, instructions for use, and the condition being treated. You should have this letter easily accessible with you throughout your travel to your Peace Corps country and when traveling in country with your medication. Be sure to provide a copy of the letter to your PCMO upon arrival in your country of service.

Unless prescribed for a laboratory-confirmed deficiency and cleared by Peace Corps Office of Health Services, you will not be provided medications that the Peace Corps considers elective or cosmetic (such as for hair loss or facial wrinkles). You will not be provided homeopathic or naturopathic remedies, dietary supplements, long-term probiotics or vitamin treatments other than multivitamins. Please note that CBD and kratom containing products are not permitted in Peace Corps countries. All substances, medications, supplements, or herbal preparations – including those available over the counter – must be approved by your PCMOs to ensure Volunteer safety and prevent unsafe drug combinations. When supplements and herbal preparations are manufactured locally, these may be inaccurately labeled, have uncertain quality, and may contain harmful contaminants. Non-compliance can result in termination of your Peace Corps service.

Allergies and life-threatening conditions

If you have been medically cleared to serve with an epinephrine injection device, you are required to have two unexpired devices with you at all times during your service.

The Peace Corps does not provide allergy immunotherapy injections during service.

Glasses and contacts

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will repair them if possible or will replace them, using the information your doctor in the U.S. provided on the Eyeglasses Form during your examination. Please note that there are limitations on cost and types of frames and lenses.

Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Contacts reduce the oxygen supply to the cornea, and even minor scratches from placing and removing them, along with environmental exposures such as contaminated water, can lead to infections which may cause permanent eye damage and vision loss.

Durable medical equipment

If you have been medically cleared to serve with durable medical equipment, including but not limited to: CPAP devices, insulin pumps, prosthetic and/or orthotic equipment, you should have a backup plan for device failure, electrical failure or other environmental challenges. The Peace Corps will need your device warranty and replacement information. If you use hearing aids, it is recommended that you bring a dry box if you are assigned to a post in a tropical and/or humid environment. For all battery-operated devices; rechargeable or solar powered batteries are recommended and you are required to bring enough batteries to last duration of service.

If any of your equipment needs to be replaced or repaired while in service, your PCMO and the Office of Medical Services will assist you. Each case will be evaluated on an individual basis to determine if the Volunteer can remain at post as in some cases a solution is not available in country.

Women’s health information

If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps will provide them. If you require a specific product, please bring it with you. Many female Volunteers use menstrual cups (The Diva Cup, The Keeper, The Moon Cup, etc.) to avoid potential problems with availability or disposal of feminine hygiene products. Consider bringing one or two menstrual cups with you to use during service.

Routine gynecological care will be provided by your PCMO who may be male or female. Specialty gynecological care is not available in all Peace Corps countries, and referrals (in-country or to another country via medical evacuation) are based on medical necessity as determined by your PCMO and the Office of Health Services.

The Peace Corps offers reproductive health services to all Volunteers. This includes individualized counseling and education on birth control options and the provision of commonly used contraceptives, which vary by country. Emergency contraception is supplied routinely in the medical kit of all female Volunteers of childbearing age. The Peace Corps' ability to provide contraceptive rings, contraceptive patches, and intrauterine devices is country-dependent. If conditions do not allow safe use, other contraceptive alternatives will be offered. Generic equivalents for oral contraceptives can typically be provided.

Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer chooses to remain in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met. Your PCMO will provide initial pregnancy options counseling and support. We provide all necessary medical and psychological care associated with a Volunteer pregnancy, with the exception that Peace Corps cannot pay for abortion services, except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term, or the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape.

The Peace Corps follows the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines for cervical cancer screening (PAP smears), which recommend women aged 21–29 receive cervical cancer screenings every three years and women aged 30–65 receive screening every three years, or every five years with high-risk human papillomavirus testing alone or in combination with a PAP smear. As such, most Volunteers will not receive a cervical cancer screening during their service unless clinically indicated.

For information about mammography, please see Volunteers aged 45-75.

Volunteers aged 45-75

The Peace Corps follows the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines for breast cancer and colorectal cancer screening. A mammogram for all female Volunteers aged 50-74 years, and a colorectal cancer screening test (stool sample testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy) for all Volunteers aged 45-75 years are required prior to medical clearance.

In countries where there are Peace Corps-approved facilities and providers, the Peace Corps will provide biennial screening mammography for women aged 50-74 years and, if indicated, colon cancer screening for Volunteers aged 45-75. When in-country screening is not available, invitees will be notified prior to service and can request to forego a mammogram and/or colorectal cancer screen during Peace Corps service or work with their placement officer to secure an invitation to a country where recommended screening is available.

Your Peace Corps medical kit

The PCMO will provide you with a kit containing basic items to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Medical kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.

  • First aid handbook
  • Ace bandages
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Adhesive tape
  • Antacid tablets
  • Anti-diarrheal (Imodium)
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Antifungal cream
  • Antihistamine
  • Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner
  • Band-Aids
  • Bismuth Subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)
  • Butterfly closures
  • Pramoxine-calamine (Caladryl) anti-itch cream
  • Condoms
  • Cough lozenges
  • Decongestant
  • Dental dams (on request)
  • Dental floss
  • Emergency contraception (for female Volunteers of childbearing age)
  • Gloves
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Ibuprofen
  • Insect repellent
  • Iodine tablets (for water purification)
  • Lip balm
  • Masks (cotton triple-layer)
  • Oral rehydration salts
  • Pulse oximeter (this is a small battery-powered device which goes on your finger and measures how well oxygen is getting into your blood stream)
  • Safety whistle
  • Saline eye drops
  • Saline nose drops
  • Scissors
  • Sore throat lozenges
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Sunscreen
  • Thermometer, digital
  • Tweezers

Medical evacuation ("medevac") information

Video: Medical emergencies and health claims

If you suffer a medical condition that cannot be treated in-country, the Peace Corps will pay to have you transported to another country or the U.S., and will provide all necessary and appropriate care during your medevac.

The Peace Corps does not specify a maximum total number of visits permitted for a given medical, behavioral health, or dental condition. In some cases, however, the health needs of the Volunteer outweigh both our ability to provide such services in country as well as the Volunteer’s ability to perform their regular duties. In these cases, OHS will provide the necessary treatment until the Volunteer is transitioned to a higher level of care, which may result in a medical evacuation and potentially in medical separation.

Depending on your condition, you may be able to return to service. Post staff will maintain your belongings and residence while you are on medevac and, in the event that you cannot return to service, will ship your belongings to your designated home of record.