For Rwanda Travelers: How to Avoid Malaria Transmission


6 May 2024

Located just south of the Equator, Rwanda offers a climate that supports the breeding of these mosquitoes – particularly during the rainy seasons. 

The climate is predominantly tropical, with two rainy seasons—the long rains from March to May and the short rains from October to November. These periods see increased mosquito activity due to standing water, which serves as ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

The primary vector of malaria in Rwanda is the Anopheles mosquito. These mosquitoes generally bite between dusk and dawn. Recognizing this behavior is crucial in planning your activities and taking preventive measures effectively.

Before Departing, Seek Malaria Prophylaxis

Antimalarial medication is often recommended for travel to malaria endemic regionsa common traveler favorite – and especially vital for high-risk areas like Rwanda. These medications are effective at preventing malaria infections, by killing the malaria parasite if you’re bitten by an infected mosquito.

Consultation with a Healthcare Provider

Before traveling, consult a healthcare provider to discuss the most suitable antimalarial medication based on your health profile and the specifics of your trip. Commonly prescribed antimalarials for Rwanda include:

  • Malarone (Atovaquone-Proguanil)
  • Mefloquine
  • Doxycycline

Runway Health offers online consultations for Malarone, with fast 3-5 day shipping to your doorstep. Many travelers prefer this telehealth option, since it allows them to avoid in-person visits and prescription pickups. Medications are below average retail pricing, which helps with budgeting too.

Consult a Doctor

Importance of Adherence to Medication

It’s crucial to start taking the prescribed antimalarial medication before travel, continue during the stay, and for a specified period after returning from Rwanda. Failure to adhere to this regimen can significantly diminish the effectiveness of the medication.

More Preventive Measures Against Mosquito Bites

Effective prevention against mosquito bites is the cornerstone of avoiding malaria transmission. Each measure should be understood and practiced diligently.

1) Using Mosquito Repellents

Mosquito repellents are a key line of defense. Repellents containing DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) are highly effective. A concentration of 30% DEET is recommended for prolonged protection. Repellents should be applied to exposed skin and clothing, according to the product instructions.

2) Wearing Protective Clothing

  • When outdoors, especially during peak mosquito activity hours, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants can significantly reduce the risk of bites.
  • Clothes treated with permethrin, an insecticide, offer additional protection and are advisable for travelers to areas with high mosquito populations.

3) Sleeping Under Mosquito Nets

Sleeping under insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) can dramatically reduce contact with mosquitoes. Ensure the mosquito net is properly sealed and free from holes to provide an effective barrier against bites.

4) Choosing the Right Accommodation

Staying in well-screened or air-conditioned rooms can greatly reduce the risk of mosquito bites. When booking accommodations, prioritize those with adequate mosquito protection measures in place.

Environmental and Behavioral Adjustments

Adjusting behavior and managing the environment effectively can reduce mosquito exposure and the risk of malaria.

Avoiding High-Risk Areas at Peak Times

Since mosquitoes are most active between dusk and dawn, it is advisable to avoid outdoor activities during these times, especially in areas known for high mosquito densities.

Managing Water Sources

Eliminate standing water around dwellings to reduce mosquito breeding sites. This includes managing drainage and regularly emptying containers that can hold water.

FAQs for Rwanda Travel and Malaria

Which antimalarial medications have the lowest side effects?

Malarone, offered by Runway Health, is generally considered to have the lowest side effects among antimalarial medications – often recommended for travelers due to its effectiveness and milder side effect profile compared to other antimalarials.

Is there a malaria vaccine I should get before traveling to Rwanda?

Malaria vaccines are not available in the USA. However, preventative malaria tablets are proven to be highly effective, especially for travelers that need a temporary boost in protection. 

How long before my trip should I start taking antimalarial medication?

Malarone should be started 1-2 days before travel (and continued for 7 days after) – while other medications like Doxycycline should be started 1-2 weeks before and continued for 4 weeks after. 

What should I do if I start showing symptoms of malaria while in Rwanda?

If you start showing symptoms of malaria, such as fever, chills, sweats, headaches, nausea and vomiting, muscle pains, and fatigue, seek medical attention immediately. Malaria symptoms can progress quickly and can be severe, so prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial.

How effective are natural repellents compared to DEET in Rwanda?

While natural repellents may provide some protection against mosquito bites, DEET is far more effective and long-lasting. Natural products may need to be applied more frequently and might not provide the same level of protection as DEET-based products, especially in areas with high mosquito activity like Rwanda.

What are the peak mosquito activity hours in Rwanda?

In Rwanda, mosquitoes that transmit malaria are most active during the evening and night, from dusk to dawn. It is advisable to take extra precautions during these hours to avoid mosquito bites.

Is it safe to take antimalarial medication for long-term travel in Rwanda?

Yes, it is generally safe to take antimalarial medication for long-term travel in Rwanda, but the best type of medication may vary depending on individual health circumstances and the duration of stay. It is important to consult a healthcare provider to choose the most appropriate medication and to discuss any potential side effects or health monitoring that may be required during prolonged use.

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