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When you are working at sea, you want to be fit and healthy. But seafarers can be prone to specific illnesses and diseases because of the nature of the work and travel to new countries. Some of the main health risks you may face are outlined below, along with information on how to get help and support, and how to take care of yourself to protect your health. 

What is malaria?

Malaria is a preventable, life-threatening disease transmitted by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito.

It is predominantly a disease affecting Africa (which has 90% of the one million deaths from malaria a year), South and Central America, Asia, and the Middle East.

While 100% protection is not possible, protective measures can significantly reduce the risk of transmission. And, if transmission does occur, appropriate drugs can suppress and even eradicate the parasites.

What should I do?

Malaria protection should be available on board, as well as standby emergency treatment.

For further advice and help, please use the links on the right of this page.

What are HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? 

HIV is a global epidemic affecting more than 38 million people, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa, but the epidemic is growing worldwide. It is spread through unprotected sex, but also through needle sharing (intravenous drug use and tattoos, for example).

STIs are a common problem worldwide. They include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes. If left untreated, they can cause illness, infertility and disability, and increase the risk of HIV/AIDS. They can also be spread to partners and transmitted to unborn/newborn children. While many can be treated fairly easily, some leave lasting damage, and all of them need treatment as early as possible.

Why are seafarers at risk? 

Seafarers have a greater risk of HIV/AIDS and STIs because of working and living away from spouses and partners, single-sex working and living arrangements, and the availability of sex workers in ports.

What should I do?

Selection for employment based on HIV status is unacceptable - and is already illegal in many countries. If you are denied employment because you are HIV positive, this should be challenged by your union.

For further advice and help, please use the links on the right of this page.

What is heart disease?

Diseases of the heart and arteries end many seafaring careers early - and are the number one killer of seafarers while at sea. But you can help ward off heart disease – and many other health risks – through eating wisely and taking exercise while you are on board. A good diet and fit body will help you to fight off illness and disease – and to recover more quickly if you do become sick.

What should I do?

Eat sensibly: Stay fit:
Stop smoking:
Negotiate healthy food guidelines with your company to ensure that healthy food options are available on board.

For further advice and help, please use the links on the right of this page.

What about psychological wellbeing?

The isolation of seafaring can sometimes take its toll on you and your family. Loneliness, homesickness and ‘burn out’ are the main psychological problems you may face.

What should I do?

The strain of a seafaring life could be reduced by shorter trips, paid leave to match length to sea time, continuous employment, opportunities for partners (and children) to sail, and improved access to cheaper communication.

For further advice and help, please use the link on the right of this page.

Related pages:
Contact Us | Fatigue

Useful links:
The ITF is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Seafarers Health

Guidelines for Malaria Prevention Onboard Merchant Ships

Malaria A5 booklet

Guidelines for the Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Infections, including HIV/AIDS Onboard Merchant Ships

Terrence Higgins Trust: HIV/AIDS information

British Heart Foundation

British Heart Foundation: healthier eating

Stay fit

Stop smoking

Alcohol Concern

Befrienders Worldwide


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