Working for a trachoma free West and Central Africa! 

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On September 26 and 27, 2019, OPC organized, in Paris, the third RAFET meeting, which is the network of trachoma experts from West and Central Africa. These are mostly French-speaking with the exception of Nigeria and Guinea Bissau. The RAFET is an excellent tool to unite, exchange, understand and benefit. Paris meeting saw different participants intervening on
topics regarding:
– the challenges and success of starting a surgical program in 2019;
– the review of the Global Scientific Meeting on Trachoma’s latest recommendations;
– the ways to access vulnerable populations such as refugees and displaced people;
– the ways to work in areas affected by civil unrest;
– the ways to set up an advocacy strategic plan;
– the progress towards the transition, which the moment at which the health system is supposed to sustain the efforts gained through a vertical health program supported by international donors.

Finally, a discussion panel composed of three countries – Mali, Mauritania and Niger – which are preparing their elimination dossier to be submitted to the World Health Organization (WHO), allowed the participants to gain the what to do and the what not to do. Each country has its own ways to conduct its business but when it comes to eliminating a disease as a public health problem, processes are quite similar.

Trachoma is caused by a bacterial infection of the eye. The bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis is transmitted through contact with eye and nose discharge of infected people. The infection is easily spread through contact with an infected person’s hands or clothes or spread by flies. Being outside most of the time, children are particularly at risk. Repeated infections over time may lead to the eyelashes drawn in so that they rub on the surface of the eye, with pain and discomfort and permanent damage to the cornea. This is more prevalent in older age groups and eventually leads to irreversible blindness. The WHO recommended strategy to control trachoma is the SAFE strategy (Surgery, Antibiotics, Face washing and Environmental change), which consists of multiple interventions designed to reduce transmission, treat infection, and correct disease aftereffects. The Pfizer produced Azythromycine is the antibiotic massively
distributed in endemic area.

This third RAFET meeting, which started with a very optimistic green message, that is the situation of trachoma across Africa in 2019 versus 2016, showed the progress that has been made so far. Of course, much needs to be done but it is great to see that year after year of efforts we are getting there. So, sharing our experiences accelerates knowledge dissemination and positively impact national trachoma elimination programs.  Next year, the RAFET will be organized either in Paris, Abidjan or Nouakchott.