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Sightsavers from the field

“Trachoma: go! We don’t
want you!”

Watch our staff video diaries for a unique, first-hand look at how Sightsavers is tackling trachoma on the remote Bijagos Islands in Guinea-Bissau.

June 2021
The view from the deck of a boat, with a sunset and land in the distance.

About 30 miles off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, more than 20,000 people live and work across the 88 Bijagos Islands. These people live in the final district in the country where trachoma infection is a public health problem.

Trachoma is a neglected tropical disease that most commonly affects people in hard-to-reach areas, such as the Bijagos Islands. So the logistics of ensuring we reach these people, to provide vital medication to protect them from trachoma, takes a huge amount of planning and collaboration.

Here, Sightsavers programme officer Iliezer Gomes Bidjonque captures what could be Guinea-Bissau’s last mass drug administration campaign for trachoma before the disease is eliminated from the country. His videos highlight the challenges that our teams face as they travel to remote areas, to ensure that everyone is treated and no one is left behind.

Watch Iliezer’s video diaries

1. Challenges

In his first video, meet Iliezer as he begins his long journey, travelling on a boat to the Bijagos Islands. He explains how trachoma affects people’s lives there, what mass drug administration entails and the challenges faced by the team when working in such a remote location.

2. Collaboration

It isn’t just Iliezer carrying out the mass drug administration on his own – this would be impossible. It takes a huge amount of collaboration to get the job done. That’s why collaborators from the ministry of health, regional health directorates and sanitary areas all need to be involved, as well as local community volunteers – known and trusted by communities – who give out the treatments.

3. The pandemic

In March 2020, the team had prepared everything and were ready to start work distributing medication. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mass drug administration campaign was delayed by nine months. Before the work could begin safely, it was important to assess the risks and put in place extra processes to protect everyone involved.

4. Reaching everyone

In this video, Iliezer drives off-road to meet Edilcia, a community volunteer. She carries a dose pole, which she uses to measure people’s height: this determines how much medication she needs to give them. Because of COVID-19, rather than everyone gathering in one place, she must walk house to house to find people.

5. What next?

Surveys will now be carried out to check whether the mass drug administration was successful in reducing the number of trachoma cases in Bijagos. But it’s not just mass drug administration that is needed. Eliminating trachoma from a whole country takes much more work, and even more collaboration.

There is still work
to be done

To eliminate trachoma from the whole country, surveys, surgery (for advanced cases) and work to improve the local health system still need to be done. But elimination is possible in the very near future, and successfully controlling the spread of the disease through mass drug administration is a huge step in the right direction for Guinea-Bissau.


Iliezer’s work is delivered through the  Accelerate programme, supported by Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), The ELMA Foundation, UK aid, Virgin Unite and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Learn about our work on neglected tropical diseases

The Accelerate programme

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