What is the Zika virus? The Zika virus is an infectious disease that is transmitted to people through mosquito bites, blood transfusion, and sexual contact with an infected male. The mosquitos that transmit Zika are mainly active during the daytime.
Who is at risk? Zika can infect any traveler to tropical areas of Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific but symptoms are mild for most people. Pregnant women, however, are at the center of concern since the virus can be spread to their unborn baby. Any traveler that is currently pregnant should not travel to affected areas.
Where can I find more information about the virus, symptoms, treatment, and protection measures? Rustic Pathways relies on the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, International SOS, and other trusted resources for reliable and updated information.
What does Rustic Pathways do to prevent infection? Rustic Pathways takes aggressive measures to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses. We create physical barriers such as screened doors and windows at our accommodations, provide mosquito nets in tropical areas, spray for mosquitos at some base houses, and remove areas of standing water wherever possible since this is where mosquitos lay their eggs. Our program leaders educate our students and chaperones upon arrival in-country about proper preventative measures and reinforce these actions consistently throughout the programs.
Is Rustic Pathways making any immediate changes to their programs? No, Rustic Pathways stands behind our preventative measures and in-country education, which have proven extremely effective in preventing other mosquito-borne illnesses over the past 33 years. If the advice of the CDC, International SOS, or WHO changes, we will certainly make any and all necessary changes to ensure our students, chaperones, and staff remain safe.
Rustic Pathways understands that risk is an inherent part of our programs. We visit remote destinations, expose our groups to unfamiliar surroundings, and encourage personal growth and development through new experiences. We also understand that each traveler is an individual with his or her own distinctive perspective and limitations. Whether trying new foods, summiting a mountain peak, or exploring undeveloped areas, Rustic Pathways believes risk management is a fundamental component for positive transformations. Our passion and commitment to safeguarding our students and staff is driven by strong leadership and executed successfully throughout our ground teams and partners.
Risk management is a process that involves an ongoing commitment to identifying and assessing risks, developing actions to reduce their occurrence or severity, and implementing adjustments as situations change. Rustic Pathways adheres to this lifecycle throughout all aspects of our business and formulates management plans to mitigate risk through prevention and to guide our critical response team when needed. Our operational risk management commitment occurs on three distinctive levels: company-wide, country management, and program operations.
At the company-wide level, Rustic Pathways employs a Safety and Risk Management Director to oversee the development and implementation of the Company Risk Management Plan and the Critical Incident Protocols. This director is also charged with reviewing all Country Risk Management Plans (CRMP’s), Program Risk Management Plans (PRMP’s), and Natural Disaster Plans. Moreover, the Safety and Risk Management Director is responsible for coordinating and conducting activity and accommodation safety audits, reviewing incident reports, ensuring medical and mental health screening meets or exceeds industry standards, and providing Country Directors with the support needed to manage local risk and safety initiatives. This director remains active in the risk management profession to ensure Rustic Pathways maintains its leading role in industry safety and best practices.
The next layer of risk management occurs at the individual country level and is overseen by each of our full-time Country Directors. Our Country Directors, in conjunction with our country management teams, develop Country Risk Management Plans, Program Risk Management Plans, and Natural Disaster Plans. These plans evaluate potential risks, identify precautionary measures, detail management procedures, and provide contingency or evacuation strategies for each region and program offered. Country Directors are also charged with developing an intelligence network to monitor on-the-ground conditions by utilizing local staff knowledge, international reporting agencies, and the U.S. State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). Country Directors also oversee the hiring and training of local staff based on company-wide requirements for quality and professionalism. These include, but are not limited to, background checks, age requirements, medical certifications, and in-country training workshops specific to risk management and safety. Our Country Directors and Human Resources Department also employ our flight leaders who staff our international group flights originating from the United States to our destination countries.
On a third and critical level, risk management occurs on each of our programs through the leadership and professionalism of our program leaders. During training, our program leaders gain a thorough understanding of the Program Risk Management Plans for the trips they will be leading including specific Critical Incident Protocols to guide their actions if an incident was to occur. Staff members are trained to ensure students remain compliant with the Rustic Pathways Student Pledge, which outlines the rules governing student behavior on programs. Staff also conducts in-person medical screenings with all students at the beginning of their program to understand individual needs. If an illness or incident occurs, program leaders submit documented reports, which are reviewed by their Country Director and the Safety and Risk Management Director. In doing so, Rustic Pathways maintains a three-tiered approach allowing effective communication sharing from bottom to top of the organizational chart.
Our students and parents also have a role in maintaining the safety of our programs. We rely on our students to understand and comply with the rules of our programs and follow their program leaders’ instructions. Our Student Pledge is distributed to all students after their enrollment is accepted and is reviewed again in detail at the beginning of each program. We expect and rely on parents and students to fully and accurately complete our forms before the program — in particular, any medical or mental health information that can influence a student’s enjoyment or that of their fellow travelers. Information from our medical forms is kept private and used to properly screen students to ensure students are placed on an appropriate program.