The pleasing islands that could stop torpedo diseases


An island in a Bijagos archipelagoImage copyright
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Travellers to a remote African islands of Bijagos can design to find a pleasant bliss of primitive beaches and sensuous rainforest.

But a islands are not usually beautiful. They are also a healthy laboratory, providing a singular environment in that to investigate cures for some of a world’s deadliest diseases.

A collection of 18 islands and 70 islets off a seashore of Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, a Bijagos are home to about 30,000 people with their possess denunciation and singular traditions.

They also pour with wildlife, including a singular saltwater hippopotamus and hulk sea turtle, that flower in this remote spot.

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But these willing islands are home to many critical illnesses and conditions. Life outlook on Guinea-Bissau is about 60, and on a Bijagos Islands it is suspicion to be many lower.

Malaria, a serious eye infection called trachoma, lymphatic filariasis – a ongoing flourishing infrequently famous as elephantiasis – and abdominal worms are sold problems.

However, a islands competence also reason a tip to rebellious a really diseases that corrupt them.

A healthy laboratory

Medical researchers have been operative on a Bijagos Islands for several years to see if they can get absolved of certain diseases from certain islands.

The reason that a islands work so good as a healthy laboratory is their remoteness.

While this creates some bland activities difficult, it is a useful underline when perplexing to exterminate disease.

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A vessel in Bissau gulf scheming to make a tour to a Bijagos

The islands’ subdivision by H2O creates a healthy barrier. This allows us to review opposite illness control methods, though a risk of cross-contamination between a exam sites.

On a mainland, people can straightforwardly pierce in and out of hearing areas, contaminating a sites and creation it formidable to settle means and effect.

An island set-up allows us to delicately and accurately magnitude a impact of any involvement made.

While there are many archipelagos around a world, few have islands tighten adequate together to concede us to work there, though distant adequate detached to minimise division during experiments.

There are also few islands with this blueprint that are home to so many diseases.

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Researchers from a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) primarily focused on trachoma, an spreading illness that turns a eyelashes inwards. Affecting 1.9 million people globally, it is a world’s heading means of preventable blindness.

Trachoma can be transmitted if infested hands, wardrobe or putrescent flies come into hit with a eyes. It is caused by a form of chlamydia micro-organism and mostly spreads in swarming areas with unsound sanitation.

The illness is found in 42 countries around a world, and during one point, there were some villages on a islands where any singular child had a disease.

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Dr Anna Last examining a studious for trachoma

Dr Anna Last from LSHTM identified high risk areas for trachoma, before treating whole communities with antibiotics to finish a cycle of transmission.

Inner eyelid swabs, taken before and after a treatment, helped a researchers to detect a illness during an early stage. They are also being used to brand that genetic forms of infection were present.

This competence urge bargain of what happens after internal elimination.

If a trachoma returns, we competence be means to establish from a genetic aria either it came from an outward source or re-emerged from within that community.

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The formula were striking. When she initial began her work, 25% of people on a islands had a disease. Now, usually 0.3% of people have it.

Not usually is this next a WHO threshold for elimination, definition a illness is all though eradicated from a islands, though a techniques grown could now advantage a wider world.

Getting to Bijagos

  • Occasionally attracts courageous explorers, though not a customary holiday destination
  • Getting to a islands can be treacherous, quite in a stormy season, when storms can come out of nowhere and means vast swells
  • The tour from a mainland takes during slightest 5 hours, on a tiny packet packaged with people and animals
  • There are few health centres, with a largest on a categorical island of Bubaque – medical reserve are limited
  • While medical professionals yield a best caring they can, retirement and inaccessibility during times make this difficult


Trachoma is not a usually problem confronting a people of a Bijagos and several other diseases on a islands are now being tackled.

Our stream concentration is malaria. This illness is widespread when womanlike mosquitoes putrescent with a bug punch a human, heading to initial symptoms such as heat and a headache before fast apropos some-more severe. Malaria kills roughly half a million people worldwide any year.

Given a superiority of malaria on a islands – with adult to one in 4 people putrescent – it is unsurprising we found mosquitoes that are really good during transmitting a disease.

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Researchers from LSHTM withdrawal Rubane island following a butterfly survey

Worryingly, we also found that some were resistant to insecticides.

This means a many common ways to control malaria – bed nets and spraying houses with insecticides – competence not work, definition an choice plan is needed.

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A new drug is about to be trialled, that is eliminated to a butterfly around a victim’s bloodstream when it bites.

Past treatments have tended to aim a malaria bug within a tellurian body. But this drug targets both a butterfly and a malaria parasite, cutting their lifespan.

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Islander Ansulmani collecting butterfly larvae regulating a dipping method

In this trial, all a islands will be given a customary control tools, such as bed nets. Some, a “intervention” islands, will also be given a drug. Others, a “control” islands, will not.

A group of internal islanders have been lerned in medical skills, such as holding blood samples and screening them for malaria.

They have also schooled how to collect and brand mosquitoes, with a assistance of Ba, one of a margin group anticipating to turn a initial entomologist, or insect specialist, on a islands.

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Ba is investigate to be an entomologist

Looking to a future

Whether this drug will get absolved of malaria on a islands once and for all stays to be seen.

Either way, a lessons learnt from a studies are expected to have an impact distant over a remote Bijagos Islands.

Every investigate helps us to learn about a illness itself and how it is transmitted, that shapes destiny research.

On a islands, this can be finished some-more quickly, with larger control and accuracy. We can see what a effects are in a tangible area, reaching an whole population.

The LSHTM plan will continue on a Bijagos for during slightest another 5 years, and in a meantime, a commentary are expected to be used to tackle vital diseases like malaria elsewhere.

About this piece

This research square was consecrated by a BBC from an consultant operative for an outward organisation. The two-year investigate towards spreading illness rejecting on a Bijagos Islands was saved by UK Research and Innovation.

Prof James Logan is conduct of a Department of Disease Control during a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Follow him on Twitter during @ProfJamesLogan.

Edited by Eleanor Lawrie


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