On World Sight Day, Merck and Partners Mark 25 Years of Successful Collaboration To Help Eliminate River Blindness
Media:Kelley Dougherty, 908-423-4291Justine O'Malley, 908-423 2021Investor:Carol Ferguson, 908-423-4465
Today on World Sight Day, 25 years after Merck (known as MSD outside the United States and Canada) started the MECTIZAN Donation Program (MDP), the company celebrates with partners important progress in the elimination of river blindness, one of the leading causes of preventable blindness worldwide. In October 1987, Merck made the decision to donate the medication MECTIZAN (ivermectin) for the treatment of river blindness (onchocerciasis) – as much as needed, for as long as needed – to eliminate the disease as a public health problem. MDP efforts are focused in Africa, Latin America and Yemen, where river blindness is endemic. In 1998, Merck expanded the MDP to include the elimination of lymphatic filariasis (LF), in African countries and Yemen where it co-exists with river blindness. World leaders come together to discuss the role of MDP in establishing a platform for disease control in a landmark event titled:
World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr. Margaret Chan said, “Twenty-five years after the donation of MECTIZAN through the MECTIZAN Donation Program, we are now close to eliminating river blindness from the Western Hemisphere. This remarkable achievement is also considered feasible in parts of Africa where we once hoped only to control the disease. Thanks to this donation and to the commitment of endemic countries, NGOs, UN agencies, and the donor community, we can now envision a world free of this blinding and disfiguring skin disease.”
The MDP is the longest-running disease-specific drug donation program of its kind. For 25 years, the MDP has donated MECTIZAN for the treatment of river blindness. The disease is transmitted through the bite of a black fly and can cause intense itching, permanent skin and eye lesions and, over time, blindness. Over one billion treatments have been donated to more than 117,000 communities in 28 countries in Africa, six countries in Latin America and in Yemen. To date, disease transmission has been interrupted – meaning no new cases have been identified – in four of the six affected countries in Latin America and nine regions in five African countries.
“It is wonderful to see the MECTIZAN Donation Program continuing strong after 25 years, making a difference in the world as it gets closer to achieving its long-held goal of eliminating river blindness,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer of Merck. “We are humbled by the great work of the alliance of partners to protect future generations from a disease that carries devastating implications for people, families, healthcare systems and local economies. The success of this program is proof that by working together we can successfully tackle the world’s most pressing health problems – even for regions and diseases that are too often neglected.”
The MDP has been made possible through a unique private-public partnership which includes WHO, the World Bank, the Task Force for Global Health, the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC), and the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA), as well as ministries of health, non-governmental development organizations and local communities in endemic countries.
To date, Merck has donated $5.1 billion worth of MECTIZAN tablets and invested approximately $45 million in direct financial support for the MDP.
According to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, “Twenty-five years after Merck’s unprecedented donation of MECTIZAN, significant progress has been made to reduce the suffering caused by river blindness. In Africa, where it was once thought the disease could only be controlled, strides are being made to completely eliminate the disease from a number of countries. And in the Western Hemisphere, The Carter Center and its partners are close to eliminating river blindness. Thanks to Merck, the commitment of endemic communities, and strong partnerships, we can now envision a world someday free of river blindness.”
In 1978 Merck scientist Dr. William Campbell suggested that the medicine MECTIZAN discovered within Merck’s laboratories could be useful against river blindness in humans. Clinical trials were conducted and in October 1987, Merck announced it would donate MECTIZAN for the treatment of river blindness to all who need it for as long as it takes to eliminate the disease as a public health problem. In 1998, Merck expanded its commitment to include donation for the treatment of lymphatic filariasis (LF) in African countries and Yemen where LF co-exists with river blindness.
Since 1998, more than 665 million treatments for LF have been approved. The program has developed a unique partnership model that has forged standards of cooperation between the private sector and public organizations and was influential in the development of a number of other public-private drug-donation initiatives.
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