Merck and Partners Make Progress In Long-Term Commitment to End River Blindness


November 11, 2011 8:08 am ET

Colombia to Request Certification by the World Health Organization of Historic Elimination of River Blindness

Public health officials at the 21st Inter-American Conference on
Onchocerciasis in Bogota, Colombia announced that Colombia has
eliminated onchocerciasis (river blindness) within its borders, making
it the first country suffering from river blindness in the Americas to
reach this goal. It also was announced that Guatemala and Mexico have
now broken the cycle of transmission of river blindness. Both countries
will halt their drug treatment programs for the disease in 2012 and
begin the three-year post treatment monitoring process, already
completed by Colombia, and required by the World Health Organization
(WHO) to certify elimination of the disease. Officials attribute the
successes in Latin America to a sustained public-private partnership led
by The Carter Center that offers health education and drug treatment
donated by Merck.

The Carter Center – through its Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for
the Americas (OEPA) partnership – assists national ministries of health
in six affected countries in Latin America to conduct health education
and distribute Merck’s medicine, ivermectin (registered trademark
MECTIZAN). Other members of the partnership include the Pan American
Health Organization (PAHO), the Lions Clubs International Foundation,
the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation.

“River blindness is a devastating disease that multiplies the challenges
and burdens already faced by poverty stricken populations,” said former
U.S. President and Carter Center founder Jimmy Carter. “Thanks to
thousands of dedicated health workers and volunteers in the Americas and
the generosity of Merck and the Mectizan Donation Program, this public
health threat will soon be eliminated from the Western Hemisphere.”

“It is tremendously rewarding to see our partnership starting to achieve
its long held goal of making river blindness a disease of the past.
These milestones clearly demonstrate that public-private partnerships
like this one are critical to achieving real improvements in global
health,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, President and CEO of Merck.

PAHO’s Directing Council passed a resolution in 2008 calling for the
interruption of transmission of river blindness in Latin America by
2012. In Latin America, river blindness has historically affected people
in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela.

Starting in 2012, approximately 80 percent of the half-million people in
the region previously at risk will no longer be in need of treatment for
river blindness. With today’s news, Guatemala and Mexico join Colombia
and Ecuador in having broken disease transmission country-wide. The two
remaining affected countries, Brazil and Venezuela, will continue
treatment in hopes of also interrupting transmission by the end of the
next year.

The MECTIZAN Donation Program

In October 1987, Merck announced it would donate the medication MECTIZAN
to all who need it for as long as necessary until onchocerciasis is
eliminated as a public health problem. The MECTIZAN Donation Program
reaches more than 100 million people annually.

In Latin America, since 1989, more than 10 million treatments of donated
MECTIZAN have been delivered by community health workers and
non-governmental organizations.

About The Carter Center’s OEPA

The Carter Center – through its sponsorship of Onchocerciasis
Elimination Program of the Americas (OEPA) – is leading a coalition of
partners in a historic effort to eliminate river blindness from the
Western Hemisphere. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S.
President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory
University, to advance peace and health worldwide. For more information,

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