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Bijagos, the paradise islands where the world's most deadly diseases are struggling – BBC News

If you travel to the distant African island of Bijagos, you can count on tropical paradise on the clean beaches and the lush tropical jungle.

But their island is not only beautiful, but also natural laboratory which provides a unique scenario for healing the planet's most deadly diseases.

The 18 islands of the Bissau-Guinea, West Africa and 70 archipelagos host 30,000 people with their own language and unique traditions.

It also deals with wildlife, including salty watermelons and giant sea turtles, which in this isolated corner.

Saltwater hippo
Medical researchers have been working in this archipelago for years.

But these quiet lands carry a number of serious illnesses. The life expectancy of Guinea-Bissau is about 60 years and it is believed that the Bissagos islands This number is much smaller.

Malaria, a serious eye infection called trachoma, the elephantiasis and the intestinal worms There are special problems in this area.

The largest medical center is located on the Bubaque main island.

At the same time, the islands can also keep the fight against the hard-hit.

Natural laboratory

Medical researchers have been working in this archipelago for years to see how they can get rid of some of the islands.

The reason is that the islands also work as a natural laboratory the remote character.

Though this hinders your daily activity, it is a very useful feature of trying eradication of the disease.

A ship heading towards Bijagos
The islands allow you to carefully and accurately measure the impact of human interventions.

Water creates a natural barrier that allows you to buy others disease control methods There is no risk of cross contamination between test scenarios.

In continental areas, people can enter and leave the areas under investigation, contaminate them, and complicate the task of determining causes and impacts.

Island areas, on the other hand, allow the measurement of the impact and accuracy of the interventions.

Although there are many island groups in the world, there are few islands that are close enough to allow them to work, but are sufficient to minimize interference in experiments.

Many of these features are islands that are affected by many diseases.

Men in a boat
The trachoma can be transmitted if infected hands, clothes or flies come into contact with the eyes.


The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health Sciences (LSHTM) initially focused on the trachoma, which is an infectious disease that turns the ears. It affects 1.9 million people worldwide and is globally the leading cause of blindness you known prevention.

The trachoma can be transmitted if infected hands, clothes or flies come into contact with the eyes. This is because one way the bacteria the chlamydia and is often common in very populated areas where there are no adequate health facilities.

The disease is present in 42 countries and at the same time there were villages in the islands where every child was suffering.

Dr. Anna Last is examining the patients
Researchers want to know what happens after the local illness of the disease.

Dr. Anna Last, from LSHTM before treatment, identified areas with high trachoma risk healthy communities with antibiotics to complete the transmission cycle.

Samples collected before and after treatment with a wipe in the eyelid help to detect the researchers early in the disease. It is also used to identify what genetic type of infection was present.

This can improve your understanding of what is happening after the local illness of the disease.

If the trachoma returns, it can be determined genetic strain if it comes from an external source or reappears within the community.

City of Bijagos
The islands allow you to carefully and accurately measure the effect of the test.

The results were wonderful. When the last job started, 25% of the people on the islands were ill. Now only 0.3% of people suffer.

This is not just below the World Health Organization (WHO) threshold, which means the disease has almost disappeared islands, but the technologies developed so far may generally be beneficial to the world.

How to get to the Bijagos Islands

  • From time to time, it is rare to attract rare explorers, but this is not a typical holiday destination.
  • Access to the islands may be a traitor, especially in the rainy season, when storms come from scratch.
  • Travel from the continent takes at least five hours with a small ferry with humans and animals.
  • There are few health centers. The largest is located on the main island of Bubaque and medical equipment is limited.
  • Although healthcare professionals provide the utmost care, distances and inaccessibility sometimes make it difficult.


Trachoma is not the only problem faced by the people of Bijagos and now affects the islands in other diseases as well.

Our current focus is malaria, which spreads when a parasite infected female mosquitoes bite people. At first this leads symptoms such as fever and headache but some of the more serious ones appear quickly. Malaria kills him every year for nearly half a million people.

Taking into account the occurrence of malaria in the islands where every fourth person is infected, it is not surprising that there are mosquitoes that are very good at transmitting the disease.

Researchers from LSHTM
Though healthcare professionals provide the utmost care, distance and unavailability sometimes make it difficult.

Concerned, we also discovered that they are resist insect repellents.

This means that the most widespread forms of fighting malaria – the ban on mosquito nets and spraying with insecticides – do not work, which means that an alternative strategy has to be introduced.

You have to accept it new medicines, which reaches the mosquito through the victim's bloodstream when bitten.

Earlier treatments were prone to attack malaria parasites in the human body. But this drug attacks both mosquito and malaria parasites, shortening its lifespan.

In this test, every island receives standard inspection tools, such as mosquito nets. Some of the islands where there is "interference" also receive the medication. Others, the "control" islands, will not do it.

It was a group of local residents skilled medical skillshow to take blood samples and process them for detection of malaria.

They also learn how to gather and identify mosquitoes, using Ba, from a man who hopes to become the first entomologist or insect specialist in the islands.


It remains to be seen that this drug once and for all eliminates malaria on the islands.

However, it is likely that the lessons learned from our studies go far beyond the distant Bijagos Islands.

Each study will help us to know the disease and how it is transmitted, which will shape future research.

On islands this can be done faster, with greater control and accuracy. You can see what effects there are in a specific area that reaches the entire population.

The LSHTM project will continue for at least five years in Bijagós and, in the meantime, its findings are likely to be handled by major diseases, such as malaria, elsewhere.

*About this piece

This analysis was commissioned by the BBC to an expert working as an external organization. Two years of study in Bijaguas for the eradication of infectious diseases was funded by the United Kingdom Research and Innovation Federation.

Professor James Logan is Head of the Department of Disease Control at the London Hygiene and Tropical Medical School. Follow him on Twitter at @ProfJamesLogan.

Text eDIThe loved Eleanor Lawrie.


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