Botswana is one of the healthiest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It has a generally low population density, who are affluent by the region's standards, and a very dry climate, which means there are comparatively few problems likely to affect visitors. The risks are further minimised if you are staying in good hotels, lodges, camps and guest farms, where standards of hygiene are generally at least as good as you will find at home.
The major dangers in Botswana are car accidents (caused by driving too fast, or at night, on gravel roads) and sunburn. Both can be very serious, yet both are within the power of the visitor to avoid.
It's interesting to note that the most frequent medical reason for air evacuations from the Okavango Delta, and surrounds, is the unexpected side-effects of the anti-malarial drug Lariam.
The following is general advice, applicable to travelling anywhere, including Botswana:
Food and storage
Throughout the world, most health problems encountered by travellers are contracted by eating contaminated food or drinking unclean water. If you are staying in safari camps or lodges, or eating in restaurants, then you are unlikely to have problems in Botswana.
However, if you are backpacking and cooking for yourself, or relying on local food, then you need to take more care. Tins, packets, and fresh green vegetables (when you can find them) are least likely to cause problems – provided that clean water has been used in preparing the meal. In Botswana's hot climate, keeping meat or animal products unrefrigerated for more than a few hours is asking for trouble.
Water and purification
Tap water in Botswana's major towns and borehole water, which is used in most of the more remote locations, is perfectly safe to drink. However, even the mildest of the local microbes may cause a slightly upset stomach for an overseas visitor. Two-litre bottles of mineral water are available from most supermarkets; these are perfect if you're in a car. Bottled water is also available at most safari camps – though think about the resources used to get it to you, and you might reflect that the local borehole water is likely to be just as good. (It's mineral water too!)
If you need to purify water for yourself in the bush, then first filter out any suspended solids, perhaps by passing the water through a piece of closely woven cloth or something similar. Then bring it to the boil, or sterilise it chemically. Boiling is much more effective, provided that you have the fuel available.
Tablets sold for purification are based on either chlorine, iodine or silver, and are normally adequate. Just follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. Iodine is the most effective, especially against the resilient amoebic cysts which cause amoebic dysentery and other prolonged forms of diarrhoea.
A cheaper alternative to tablets sold over the counter is to travel with a small bottle of medical-quality tincture of iodine (2% solution) and an eye dropper. Add four drops to one litre of water, shake well, and leave to stand for ten minutes. If the water is very cloudy (even after filtering) or very cold, then either double the iodine dose, or leave to stand for twice as long.
This tincture of iodine can also be used as a general external antiseptic, but it will stain things deep brown if spilt – so seal and pack its container exceedingly well.
Heat and sun
Heatstroke, heat exhaustion and sunburn are often problems for travellers to Botswana, despite being easy to prevent. To avoid them, you need to remember that your body is under stress and make allowances for it. First, take things gently; you are on holiday, after all. Next, keep your fluid and salt levels high: lots of water and soft drinks, but go easy on the caffeine and alcohol. Thirdly, dress to keep cool with loose-fitting, thin garments – preferably of cotton, linen or silk. Finally, beware of the sun. Hats and long-sleeved shirts are essential. If you must expose your skin to the sun, then use sunblocks and high factor sunscreens (the sun is so strong that you will still get a tan).