BANGKOK – Thailand is a favorite vacation destinations for many Australian’s but it is also the one most likely to hurt us. Thailand has topped the list for the most hospitalizations and deaths of Australian travelers overseas in the past year.
A report on Australia’s recent consular assistance, released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), revealed that 196 Australians were hospitalized in the Southeast Asian country in the financial year ending June 30, and 203 passed away.
Thailand welcomes around half a million Australian visitors every year. It is the fourth most visited country for Aussie tourists, behind New Zealand, the USA and the UK.
Naturally, it’s also the source of a vast amount of travel insurance claims. According to Southern Cross Travel Insurance, claims are largely the result of traffic accidents and it can be a staggering amount of money.
One unfortunate traveler covered by the insurer suffered multiple injuries in a hit and run in Thailand, which came to an overall medical bill of $81,000.
Another was injured in a go-kart accident and would have been left $13,000 out of pocket if they didn’t have travel insurance. A moped accident also totaled a bill of $5,500 in the past year.
According to research commissioned by Southern Cross Travel Insurance in May 2016, one in five travellers have suffered an injury caused by a motorbike or scooter accident.
Twenty-eight-year-old Sydneysider William White is one of them. He said he was holidaying in Thailand’s Ko Pha Ngan “without a care in the world” when a short scooter trip landed him in hospital facing several surgeries.
“As we were riding down the road, my friend who also had his girlfriend on the back pulled over and before I had time to think or even notice, I was approaching his scooter. With hardly any time to think I tried to swerve him but as I passed I clipped the rear end, causing all three of us to come off in the middle of the road,” Mr White said.
The accident happened on what was meant to be a 15-minute trip to a breakfast spot. The day prior, the group of friends had spent an entire day on a scooter exploring the island.
“As I flew through the air it was hard to think what the outcome of this might be as I was terrified. I landed on my right side and my face crashed into the concrete, the helmet I was wearing had little protection.
“I remember waking up on the floor with a rock as a pillow that a local had propped my head on. I looked up at one of my friends and tried to get up to see how the other two were and was told to get back down — this is when I knew I probably hadn’t grazed my knee.
“The next thing I’m being put in an ambulance and told I’ve got to go to the next island (Ko Samui) for a CT scan. After an ambulance, a boat trip and another ambulance I was having my eye lid stitched back together and popped into the CT machine. I was then admitted into a private room where I would lay for the rest of my two-week holiday.”
But the recovery lasted much longer when Mr White finally arrived home.
“Once I arrived back in Australia it was a tough start not being able to work and seeing specialists to prepare for months of ongoing surgery involving my jaw to be cut and repositioned, a synthetic cheek bone to be fitted, and my eye socket to be rebuilt to reposition my eyeball back into its original position.”
IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD INSURANCE, YOU CAN’T AFFORD TRAVEL
Chris White, CEO for Southern Cross Travel Insurance, said Aussie travelers being injured overseas is becoming all too frequent.
“Getting seriously injured on holiday is the last thing you expect to happen, but as recent reports show, the rate is staggering. While some injuries and illnesses are not serious, a significant amount require costly medical treatment, leaving travelers faced with extortionate medical bills.”
Following the release of DFAT’s report, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has warned Australians that there are limits to the assistance the Government can provide when your are involved in an accident overseas.
Medicare and the Government will not cover uninsured travelers who are hospitalized overseas or need medical evacuation.
“Australians who choose to travel overseas should be as prepared and self-reliant as possible,” she said, adding that if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.
“We want to send a message to travelers that it’s not worth risking their health and well-being by travelling uninsured overseas,” Southern Cross Travel Insurance’s Mr White said.
By Julia Corderoy