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Medical and Health Preparations and Packing Recommendations for Your International Adoption Trip

By Martha Henry and Daniel Pollack, authors of Adoption in the United States

Which medical specialists should you consult with prior to your international adoption trip? Suggested travel health preparations, plus recommendations for health supplies and medications to pack for you and your baby.

Traveling overseas increases the risk of medical problems such as malaria, hepatitis A, typhoid, and traveler’s diarrhea. Families planning to travel overseas to adopt a child should discuss their upcoming trip with their primary care physician. They may also want to consult a travel medicine specialist to prepare for the trip and to decrease the risks of contracting travel-related illnesses. If young child will be accompanying the adoptive parents, they should be prepared for the trip as well; parents should make sure their routine immunizations are up to date and that any special medications or immunizations they need for the trip are provided in advance.

Before traveling, adoptive parents may want to meet with their chosen pediatrician to discuss how to manage possible illnesses while traveling with the child. It also would be beneficial to learn how to temperatures. While orphanages usually have doctors who can help, and the U.S. embassy may be able to recommend local hospitals or doctors, once adoptive parents have embarked on the return trip to the United States, it may be helpful to have the pediatrician’s phone number and/or an e-mail address.

During the past several years, several infectious diseases have complicated international adoptions. In 2003, outbreaks of SARS disrupted travel to China and Southeast Asia. In 2004, adoptions from China were temporarily halted because of measles outbreaks. No one knows how bird flu will progress and spread over the next few years, but it will be important for international travelers to be prepared to deal with outbreaks of infections diseases and to know about current medical threats in countries or regions they are visiting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides current information about outbreaks of disease around the world on their Web site.

Some adoption agencies suggest taking an extensive list of medical supplies on the trip. Before spending a lot of money on antibiotics, creams, lotions, cold medicines, or remedies for head lice and scabies, prospective adoptive parents should discuss with the agency the kids of medical problems families have encountered in the past. They frequently see scabies or head lice in the children; it is worth taking a treatment such as Elimite Cream or Nix Shampoo. Antibiotics are usually not necessary. Diapers, antibacterial wipes, medication for fever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, soothing body lotions, and a digital thermometer are the most useful items to have. In addition, parent may wish to bring diaper rash ointments, a stroller, hydrocortisone 1% diarrhea medication, insect repellants, sunscreen, bottles or sippy cups, a first aid kit, saline nasal drops, antihistamines, a medicine dropper, powered formula, and powdered electrolytes, as well as prescriptions and over-the-counter medications for themselves. Again, parents should plan ahead, since due to airline restrictions, it may be necessary to pack these items rather than bringing them in carry-on luggage. It might also be quite practical to correspond with one’s travel group, if there is one, to make a plan to share responsibility for bringing supplies.


Martha J. Henry and Daniel Pollack are associated with the renowned Center for Adoption Research at the University of Massachusetts. Martha Henry is a developmental psychologist and Daniel Pollack is social work professor and honorary fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. This article is excerpted with publisher permission from their excellent overview of international and domestic adoption, Adoption in the United States: A Reference for Families, Professionals and Students.


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