On World Sight Day, Merck and Partners Mark 25 Years of Successful Collaboration To Help Eliminate River Blindness


October 11, 2012 7:00 am ET

  • World Health Organization commends the MECTIZAN® Donation Program (MDP) on its contribution to near-elimination of river blindness from the Western Hemisphere
  • Partnership efforts result in interruption of disease transmission in four of six endemic countries in Latin America, and nine regions within five countries in Africa
  • Merck has donated over one billion treatments to nearly 117,000 communities in Africa, Latin America and Yemen
  • Longest running donation program of its kind aims to tackle a leading cause of preventable blindness

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: ‘Disease Elimination in the 21st

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

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.”

About The MECTIZAN Donation Program

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

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.

About Merck

Today’s Merck is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be
well. Merck is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada.
Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and
consumer care and animal health products, we work with customers and
operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health
solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to
healthcare through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. For
more information, visit www.merck.com
and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

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Kelley Dougherty, 908-423-4291
Justine O’Malley, 908-423 2021
Carol Ferguson, 908-423-4465

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