The Mectizan® Donation Program

25 Years: The MECTIZAN® Donation Program

For centuries, river blindness (onchocerciasis) plagued remote communities in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, and there was no answer to this affliction.

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.

“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," said Merck Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth C. Frazier.

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.

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.

Today, the MDP is the longest-running, disease-specific drug donation program of its kind.

Mectizan Donation Program Timeline

Explore our 25-year history of helping to bring treatment to those afflicted by river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.


Dr. William Campbell of Merck Research Laboratories suggests the use of Mectizan (ivermectin) against onchocerciasis (river blindness) in humans.


The first human clinical trials begin in Dakar with the first patient receiving a single dose.


Former Merck CEO Dr. Roy Vagelos announces the company's commitment to donate Mectizan to treat river blindness for as long as needed – the Mectizan Donation Program (MDP) is formed.


The Mectizan Expert Committee meets for the first time to establish the strategy for distribution and the donation review process. Mectizan has been produced at the MSD plant in Haarlem, the Netherlands, since the beginning of the program.


Merck, the MDP Secretariat and WHO establish the Non-Governmental Development Organization (NGDO) Coordination Group for Onchocerciasis Control. NGDOs play a critical role in Mectizan distribution through their work with ministries of health and local communities, expertise in program management, and financial support.


The Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA), formed by the River Blindness Foundation and currently sponsored by The Carter Center, brings together the ministries of health of six countries in Latin America affected by onchocerciasis.


WHO, the World Bank, international NGOs, and 19 African countries partner to create the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC), providing a structure for financial support and coordination of river blindness control efforts.


Merck begins a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline to expand the MDP to include the elimination of lymphatic filariasis (LF), commonly referred to as elephantiasis, in African countries and in Yemen.

Merck and the MDP celebrate the 100 millionth treatment in Uganda.


The iconic river blindness statue, “Sightless Among Miracles” by sculptor R. T. Wallen, is dedicated at WHO headquarters in Switzerland. Identical statues are also found at The Carter Center (Georgia, USA), the World Bank (Washington, D.C., USA), the Royal Tropical Institute (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), Merck (New Jersey, USA) and Lions Club International Foundation (Illinois, USA).


In Tanzania, former Merck CEO Raymond
Gilmartin celebrates the 250 millionth
treatment distributed.


The Pan American Health Organization passes a resolution calling for the interruption of transmission of river blindness in the Americas by the year 2012.

WHO confirms the potential for elimination of river blindness in some parts of Africa through current treatment strategies.


Merck reaffirms its commitment to the MDP. Merck “will continue to [donate Mectizan] until river blindness becomes a disease of the past,” said Richard T. Clark, former chairman and CEO.


Colombia becomes the first country to apply for WHO certification for the elimination of onchocerciasis transmission after suspending treatment with Mectizan in 2007.


Merck Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth C. Frazier commemorates the 25th anniversary of the MDP at a celebratory event in London.

"The Scourge of Humanity"

In February 2000, the World Health Organization referred to the disease as a "scourge of humanity throughout recorded history," with approximately:

  • 120 million people at risk of contracting river blindness;
  • 18 million people infected with river blindness;
  • One million people already visually impaired or blinded.

Even those who escaped the disease still suffered its effects as farmland near rivers was abandoned, productivity suffered, and children had to give up school to look after stricken members of their families.

In 1978, Dr. William Campbell of Merck Research Laboratories suggested that the medicine Mectizan discovered within Merck's laboratories could be useful against river blindness in humans. After successful clinical trials, in October 1987, Merck made the decision to donate Mectizan to all who need it for as long as it takes to eliminate the disease as a public health problem.

People in the communities are an integral part of the distribution process in the more than 100,000 communities where Mectizan has been distributed. According to Uche Amazigo, former director of APOC, "by engaging the people, the treatment coverage increased significantly."



"For as Long as It's Needed..."

This short documentary explores the history and impact of the Mectizan Donation Program.

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What are the diseases?

Learn more about river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

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Merck Mectizan Donation Program

One of the most significant initiatives undertaken by Merck to help improve access to medicines in developing countries is the Merck Mectizan (ivermectin) Donation Program.

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