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Sightsavers from the field

February updates: highlights from around the world

A river blindness mapping survey is producing positive results in Mozambique, plus news from Guinea-Bissau, Pakistan and Burkina Faso.

February 2020
A group of people walking along a remote road. They are carrying buckets and coolers.

Mozambique

The first-ever river blindness mapping survey in Mozambique, which aims to assess the prevalence of the disease in the country, is proving very successful.

The project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, uses modern techniques to collect data and blood samples from members of the community. A technician pricks the finger for blood and applies it to special filter paper, which is sent to the laboratory for results. The recorder collects data via a secure mobile phone application, using barcodes to link participants and their test results.

One of the volunteer technicians on the programme is Clécio, who works as a biologist at the ministry of health. “I am happy to be part of this project. I think this project will have a positive impact – no matter what happens it will be positive,” he says.

“I think the impact will be huge as we can help many people. So, with this mapping we will know what steps to take next. If the disease is found, we can follow it up with treatment.”

Clécio explains how the disease can cause a lot of stigma for people. “Because most of the people live in a rural area, especially the community, they depend on farming. So, if someone has this disease they can no longer go and farm because they get weaker and weaker.”

He says that in his community, the response has been very positive. “Not too many people have had questions about having their blood taken. Some people have been afraid to have their finger pricked but that’s it, not problems at all.

“I think it is important for Mozambique to eliminate river blindness because, aside from talking about elimination, it will also contribute to the development of the country. There are a lot of neglected tropical diseases in the country and they have impacted negatively in the development of Mozambique.”  More from Mozambique

Clécio smiles as he stands in front of some homes.
Clécio smiles after finishing a day of surveys for the river blindness elimination mapping project in Cemente, Mozambique.

Guinea-Bissau

Idalina is one of our extremely hard-working community-directed distributors (CDDs) who is dedicated to fighting intestinal worms in her community in Biombo, Guinea-Bissau.

Along with working as a teacher and looking after her six children, she helps deliver vital medicines which help fight neglected tropical diseases as part of a Sightsavers project.

School director Idalina built a school in her community in 2017 using her own savings. Now, there are the teachers and 87 children enrolled in her school. So when her community was tasked to select a volunteer to distribute medicine, she was a natural choice. Idalina says the community trust her and for this reason she was chosen.

The feeling of compassion for her community is her main motivation to work as a CDD. In 1996, there was a malaria epidemic in her community and many people died. She was just 14 years old at the time, but it affected her deeply and ever since she has been dedicated to helping her community. Last year there were just three cases of malaria in her community, as a result of the hard work she and others are doing. “We must sacrifice ourselves for the common good of our community. If we don’t help, the next victim could be a member of our own family,” she says.

She started to work as a CDD in 2010. In addition to this project, she also works for other health campaigns, such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and family planning.

In her opinion, her gender doesn’t affect her ability to do her job, access household members or to be listened in her community. The community would accept male or female volunteers; however, she believes people feel more comfortable to speak to a woman about health issues. According to Idalina, there are fewer women CDDs because of their lower level of education in her region. In the area where she works, there are 11 CDDs working on this campaign, but only two of them are women.

“I feel valued as a CDD, not only by my community but also by my family,” she adds. More from Guinea-Bissau

Idalina sits with her baby,
Idalina is determined to eliminate schistosomiasis in her community.

Pakistan

In Pakistan, Sightsavers has been involved in many different projects and events to support our work fighting for disability rights.

We joined together with the Sustainable Development Goals unit at the ministry of planning development and reforms, United Nations Development Programme and the Social Education Development Association to develop information materials that are accessible for people with disabilities. We translated the Sustainable Development Goals into Urdu, braille and sign language to uphold people with disabilities’ right to information. A launch event took place in Isb to highlight the significance of accessible communication materials.

The National Assembly of Pakistan signed an MoU with Sightsavers Pakistan to empower people with disabilities through inclusive legislations. The Parliament House is keen to upgrade its operations to make it accessible for people with different needs.

We collaborated with education charity Idara-e-Taleem o Agahi (ITA) to organise a children’s literature festival in Islamabad, ensuring it was inclusive and accessible for children with visual impairments. We invited all other stakeholders to provide accessible learning materials (in any form of audio/braille) so visually impaired children did not miss out.

Sightsavers’ Pakistan is collaborating with Deaf Reach, an organisation dedicated to empowering people with hearing impairments, to develop a standard sign language manual for eye health professionals. Ophthalmologists from public and private hospitals, special education representatives and other relevant stakeholders were invited to a consultation on first steps to take. More from Pakistan

Burkina Faso

A trachomatous trichiasis (TT) survey in Burkina Faso has given hope to 70-year-old Konaté.

The TT only survey, as part of an Accelerate-funded programme, was taking place to establish the prevalence of the disease in the Boromo district, where Konaté lives. The team discovered that she had been living with trichiasis, the advanced form of trachoma, for more than 10 years, and she was unable to do her daily tasks because of the painful disease. She had visited traditional healers and tried medication she had bought from street vendors, but her condition did not improve. She says she had no idea what she was suffering from and thought the disease was incurable.

The Sightsavers team reassured her that her condition could be cured with surgery, and made a referral for her to have the operation.

Konaté’s case is further proof that trachoma and its complications are still little known among the population in rural Burkina Faso and gives an idea of the work that needs to be done. Sightsavers is working hard to raise awareness of the disease, and inform people of the importance of good hygiene to stop the spread. More from Burkina Faso

A woman shows a volunteer a tube of ointment.
Konaté shows Sightsavers volunteer Emile the eye ointments she bought from a street vendor.

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