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 21 st Century.'
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.