Health and Safety in Tonga
With minimal crime, no fatal diseases, no crocodiles and little else to be concerned about, Tonga is a relatively safe country to visit. However, as a tropical country with mosquitos, environmental risks and not the best drinking water systems, you’ll definitely want to take a few simple precautions when travelling in Tonga. We’ll go through all of the main health and safety issues in Tonga in this guide to how to keep safe in Tonga.
Quick Health Tips for Tonga
- Boiling tap water before drinking is advisable
- Go heavy on the sun protection – see the What are the Best Sunscreens for Tonga?
- Take precautions to avoid mosquito bites
- Make sure your travel vaccinations are up-to-date for Tonga
- Focus on hand hygiene to avoid stomach upsets
- Some resorts and villages are remote, so act quickly if you start feeling ill, as it could take one to two days to see a doctor
For more tips with more details, see 10 Health Tips for Tonga.
Crime and Personal Safety in Tonga
Crime levels in Tonga are low. But like most societies, crime does occur so it pays to use commonsense precautions when it comes to safety. The main types of safety issues in Tonga are as follows…
Property theft does occur in Tonga, including house invasions and bag snatching. However, the latter is more of a risk if walking alone at night, so try to avoid this by walking in groups, avoiding dodgy areas and suspicious people. Don’t leave valuable items on display.
While rare, sexual harassment has occurred to travellers in Tonga. Women should avoid walking around alone late at night. As per Tongan custom, it’s a good idea to wear modest clothing out in public areas, which may also help to avoid unwanted attention.
Tonga Police Contact Details
Emergency Services: 911
Tonga Police: 922
There are some environmental factors in Tonga that can impact safety, from weather events to animals.
Cyclones in Tonga
Cyclones can happen in Tonga, with increased risk in the South Pacific cyclone season between November and April. During severe cyclones, flying debris, flooding and power cuts can be an issue. Follow our advice in How to Prepare for a Cyclone in Tonga.
Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Tonga
Tonga sits on an active earthquake zone, which sometimes triggers tsunamis. In 2009, an earthquake in Samoa triggered a tsunami that affected Niuatoputapu in The Niuas, killing 11 people and wiping out villages. Learn more about what to do in the event of an earthquake or a tsunami in Tonga here.
Water Hazards in Tonga
Being an island nation, a lot of activity revolves around the water in Tonga. Sharp coral reefs, volcanic rock, rips and strong currents are all hazards in Tonga so even strong swimmers should take precautions. Seek out local advice on where it’s safe to swim. Make sure that the boats you are going on have lifejackets or pack your own. See Water Safety in Tonga for advice.
Stray dogs roam villages and towns in Tonga. In the unlikely event that a dog or a pack gets aggressive with you, pretend to throw a stone at them and the dog should cower away.
Health Advice for Tonga
More environmental hazards leak into general health advice for Tonga, which involves sun protection, food and drink safety and infectious diseases. Like travelling anywhere in the world, it’s a good idea to have your vaccinations up-to-date, as well as be prepared for minor health issues and injuries with a first aid kit for Tonga.
Medical Issues to be Aware of in Tonga
The most common medical issues that can occur in Tonga include sunburn, heatstroke, mosquito bites and coral cuts. Most illnesses are easy to avoid by taking precautions; most we go through in the 10 Health Tips for Tonga. Some common illnesses and injuries to be aware of include:
Heatstroke – Overexposure to the sun and/or high humidity can lead to heatstroke. Symptoms include exhaustion, confusion, headache and vomiting. Avoid heatstroke by applying high-factor sunscreen reapplied every three hours and by drinking plenty of water. If symptoms occur, move out of the sun immediately and try to cool the victim down by wrapping a wet towel around them. See a doctor as soon as possible.
Mosquito Bites – Mosquitos can leave a nasty itchy bite. The main reason to avoid mosquito bites as much as possible is to avoid diseases like dengue fever and chikungunya, which have the occasional outbreak in Tonga. Check out 10 Ways to Avoid Mosquito Bites in Tonga for ways to avoid bites.
Ciguatera – Ciguatera is food poisoning caused by eating reef fish that have eaten particular types of toxic algae. Symptoms occur within 24 hours of eaten contaminated reef fish and include vomiting, diarrhoea and numbness in the fingers. Only eat the fish that the locals eat or avoid eating reef fish altogether.
Coral Cuts – Cuts from live coral can leave prolonged infections. If you are injured by live coral, get out of the water immediately and cleanse the wound. Take out all of the bits of coral, apply antiseptic cream, and cover with a dressing.
Diving Decompression – Scuba diving is extremely popular in Tonga, but neglecting the strict depth and timing precautions of scuba diving can result in decompression sickness, otherwise known as “the bends”. There are no decompression chambers in Tonga.
Outbreaks of diseases can occur in Tonga. Traveller’s diarrhoea is the most common disease for visitors, while dengue fever, chikungunya, typhoid and meningitis have a lower risk of outbreaks.
Dengue Fever – Dengue fever is a mosquito-transmitted disease that has had a few outbreaks in Tonga in recent years. It is only the day-biting mosquitos (black and white striped) that cause the infection, but it’s good practice to try and avoid mosquito bites at all times – see recommended insect repellents for Tonga here. Self-treatment includes paracetamol (not aspirin), lots of fluids and rest.
Chikungunya – Similar to dengue fever, chikungunya is another mosquito-transmitted disease also spread by day-biting mosquitos. There is no vaccination or specific treatment for the disease, so, again, sensible mosquito avoidance is recommended.
E-coli (Traveller’s Diarrhoea) – E-coli is a virus resulting from food and water that is contaminated with faecal matter, for instance. Precautions to take include boiling water for at least 10 minutes before drink, even tap water. See Can You Drink the Water in Tonga? for more tips. Symptoms include fever, drowsiness and diarrhoea. If symptoms occur, hydrate by taking small sips of fluids continuously, alternating between electrolytes and water. If you don’t have electrolyte solution, drink Coca Cola or salty broth. In most cases, you will just need to wait until the symptoms go away, as antibiotics rarely treat it effectively.
Typhoid Fever, Meningitis, Measles & Hepatitis A – While rare, typhoid fever, meningitis, measles and hepatitis A outbreaks have occurred in the past 10-15 years. It is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be up-to-date with routine vaccinations and to get travel vaccinations, such as diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, regardless of where you are travelling to. Find out more in Do You Need Vaccines to Travel to Tonga?
Medical and Travel Insurance for Tonga
Hospitals are available on Tongatapu and Vava’u. The more remote you go in Tonga, the more basic the health services are. If you have health insurance but does not cover you abroad, consider purchasing some travel insurance. Good travel insurance for Tonga should include cover for theft, illness and injury as a standard. It’s also worth adding on policies for evacuation and “dangerous sports” for travel insurance for Tonga, which usually includes snorkelling, scuba diving and surfing.
Find out more about medical insurance for travelling in Tonga in our guide to Medical and Travel Insurance for Tonga TT045.