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World Maritime Day : Four important trends in Seafarer health by Medsea

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MUMBAI : Medsea, an International SOS company and a leading provider of health services to thousands of seafarers worldwide, provides their top four commercial maritime health trends for the remainder of 2023. The medical team analysed case data for 2023 so far, to help make predictions for the months ahead, during the colder months of the northern hemisphere winter.

Seafarers are often exposed to many occupational risk factors and face tough and harsh working conditions. The demanding working environment, which includes exposure to noises, chemicals, vibrations as well as isolation can lead to various physical diseases and mental illness. Research has shown that seafarers have a 1.3 times higher mortality rate than other employees. The mortality rate was especially high in smoking and alcohol-related causes. 

Dr Katherine Sinclaire, Senior Medical Advisor at MedSea, comments “Promoting the health and wellbeing of seafarers is of paramount importance, not only for their individual welfare but also for the safety and efficiency of maritime operations. We encourage seafarers to call us regardless of their situation. This is not only to help mitigate the risks of a worsening medical situation but to also collect data and help us to better understand how to address the types of health conditions and medical needs onboard.”

Dr Sinclaire added “A key part of our role as medical professionals is to use this data to promote health at sea. We always want to minimise any unnecessary discomfort to seafarers, especially when shoreside medical assistance is days away, so we aim to prevent and educate wherever we can.”

Four key trends that appear in the case data are:

1.    Dental health cases increasing

From January to August 2023, 13% of International SOS Maritime cases were related to dental issues, making it the second highest case category next to COVID-19. While this category has always seen high case volumes, it represents an increase year on year.

It is widely reported that poor dental hygiene may be linked to other chronic diseases2, such as diabetes and heart disease. In general, dental issues are preventable and can be avoided, therefore it is crucial for ship owners/operators to promote dental health onboard.

2.    Seafarers need to be protected from the risks of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Global COVID-19 cases remain significant and this is reflected in MedSea data, with COVID-19 remaining the highest case category by volume. As winter approaches, this trend is expected to continue alongside viruses such as Influenza and RSV.

Ship owners should consider COVID-19 boosters and flu vaccinations where possible for their seafarers at risk, to minimise the potential for illness at sea and operational impact.

3.    Addressing gastrointestinal challenges and norovirus outbreaks on board

Another common ailment encountered by MedSea is gastrointestinal issues. Prolonged periods at sea, irregular working hours, limited access to fresh and nutritious food can lead to digestive problems such as gastritis, constipation and food poisoning. Furthermore, Noroviruses are often associated with the maritime industry2. The highly contagious virus can spread rapidly in close quarters such as cruise ships and can result in severe gastrointestinal illnesses among crew members.

To prevent gastrointestinal diseases on board, ship owners should implement stringent sanitation measures, ensuring access to clean drinking water and promoting hygiene practices on board. It is crucial for seafarers to understand food safety practices, including proper food handling, preparation, and storage.

4.    A culture of healthy lifestyle should be promoted among seafarers

Encouraging healthy eating habits, regular exercise, smoking cessation and preventing alcohol abuse among seafarers can have far-reaching benefits. A balanced diet ensures seafarers receive essential nutrients needed for optimal physical and mental performance during lengthy trips at sea.

Smoking cessation reduces the risk of tobacco-related diseases and improves respiratory health, which is vital for those working in confined spaces. Additionally, addressing alcohol abuse not only enhances seafarers’ health, but also mitigates the risk of accidents, ensuring a healthier and safer maritime environment. 

About the International SOS Group of Companies

The International SOS Group of Companies is in the business of saving lives, protecting your global workforce from health and security threats. Wherever you are, we deliver customised health, security risk management and wellbeing solutions to fuel your growth and productivity. In the event of extreme weather, an epidemic or a security incident, we provide an immediate response providing peace of mind. Our innovative technology and medical and security expertise focus on prevention, offering real-time, actionable insights and on-the-ground quality delivery. We help protect your people, your organisation’s reputation, as well as support your compliance reporting needs. By partnering with us, organisations can fulfil their Duty of Care responsibilities, while empowering business resilience, continuity and sustainability. Founded in 1985, the International SOS Group, headquartered in London & Singapore, is trusted by nearly 9,000 organisations, including the majority of the Fortune Global 500 as well as mid-size enterprises, governments, educational institutions, and NGOs. 13,000 multi-cultural security, medical, logistics and digital experts stand by you to provide support & assistance from over 1,200 locations in 90 countries, 24/7, 365 days. 

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