“as much as needed, for as long as needed”
For centuries, river blindness (onchocerciasis) plagued remote communities in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, and there was no answer to this affliction.
This all began to change in the mid-to-late 1970s, when Dr. William Campbell of Merck Research Laboratories suggested the use of Mectizan (ivermectin) against onchocerciasis (river blindness) in humans. Following the breakthrough lab work by Dr. Campbell, another Merck researcher, Dr. Mohammed Aziz, championed the clinical development of Mectizan. Dr. Aziz led the collaboration with the World Health Organization in the early 1980s to design and implement field studies in West Africa that ultimately proved the effectiveness of the drug against river blindness.
In October 1987, Merck committed to donate Mectizan – as much as needed for as long as needed – with the goal to help eliminate river blindness.
In order to reach this goal, Merck leaders recognized that many organizations with unique skills would need to work together as a team. Thus, the Mectizan Donation Program (MDP) was created as a ground-breaking public-private partnership that has been influential in the development of a number of other drug donation programs. And, the MDP's community-directed strategy used to distribute Mectizan has enabled add-on health services to be introduced in remote communities where health services are limited.
More than twenty-five years later, the results of this program speak for themselves. With the efforts of a variety of partners, including the donation of more than 1 billion treatments to more than 117,000 communities in 28 countries in Africa, six countries in Latin America, and in Yemen, countries are seeing progress. In Latin America, WHO has verified that Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico have eliminated onchocerciasis. Guatemala was able to stop transmission in 2011 and is awaiting verification of elimination from WHO. Elimination efforts are now focused on the Yanomami people living in Brazil and Venezuela. In Africa, the distribution of Mectizan has been stopped in 16 districts in Uganda, two districts in Mali and one district in Sudan where it is believed that onchocerciasis transmission has been interrupted.
In 1998, Merck expanded its commitment to include donating Mectizan for the treatment of lymphatic filariasis (LF) in African countries and Yemen where LF – also known as elephantiasis – co-exists with river blindness. Significant progress against LF is being made by the partnership: By 2014, treatment had been stopped in 23 implementation units (IUs) in Benin, 33 IUs in Burkina Faso, 70 IUs in Ghana, 26 IUs in Malawi, two IUs in Niger, 30 IUs in Nigeria, six IUs in Tanzania and 16 IUs in Uganda. Post-treatment surveillance is ongoing in Togo and Yemen.
Today, the MDP is the longest-running, disease-specific drug donation program of its kind. The program reaches more than 250 million people annually, with more than 1 billion treatments donated since 1987. “Who would have thought when that donation was first announced in 1987 that we would be talking of eliminating a disease due to donated Mectizan,” said Adrian Hopkins, head of the MECTIZAN Donation Program and recently appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his humanitarian service. ”Mectizan is able to impact the life and economy of these communities.”
According to Uche Amazigo, former director of APOC,
"by engaging the people, the treatment coverage increased significantly."
People in the communities are an integral part of the distribution process in the more than 100,000 communities where Mectizan has been distributed.
More than twenty-five years later, the results of this program speak for themselves.
With the efforts of a variety of partners, including the donation of more than 1 billion treatments to more than 117,000 communities in 28 countries in Africa, six countries in Latin America, and in Yemen, 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. The program reaches more than 250 million people in the affected areas annually.
Today, the MDP is the longest-running, disease-specific drug donation program of its kind.
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,- Ken Frazier