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

Partnership efforts result in interruption of disease transmission in nine regions within five countries in Africa
Source: Merck & Co., Inc
On World Sight Day, MSD and Partners Mark 25 Years of Successful Collaboration To Help Eliminate River Blindness
On World Sight Day, MSD and Partners Mark 25 Years of Successful Collaboration To Help Eliminate River Blindness
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LONDON, United-Kingdom, October 11, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ --

• World Health Organization commends the MECTIZAN® Donation Program 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

• MSD 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 MSD (known as Merck in the U.S. and Canada) (http://www.msd.com) 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, MSD 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. 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 Century.'

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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, President and CEO of MSD. “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, MSD has donated $5.1 billion worth of MECTIZAN tablets and invested approximately $45 million in direct financial support for the MDP.

According to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, “Twenty-five years after MSD'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 MSD, the commitment of endemic communities, and strong partnerships, we can now envision a world someday free of river blindness.”

Distributed by the African Press Organization on behalf of Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc.

About The MECTIZAN Donation Program

In 1978 MSD scientist Dr. William Campbell suggested that the medicine MECTIZAN discovered within MSD's laboratories could be useful against river blindness in humans. Clinical trials were conducted and in October 1987, MSD 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 blindness.

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 The MECTIZAN Donation Program in Africa

In Africa, the efforts of the partners have resulted in interruption(1) of disease transmission in regions within five countries. In 2009, WHO published a study showing the first evidence that elimination of river blindness would be possible in Africa.(2) In 2012, several areas in Uganda announced the elimination of river blindness transmission.(3) Additionally, evidence shows that elimination of river blindness in Nigeria may be possible, and in fact, the disease may already be eliminated in the Kaduna State.(4) Transmission has also been interrupted in several endemic areas in Senegal, Mali, and Sudan.(5), (6)

About MSD

Today's MSD (known as Merck in the US and Canada) (http://www.msd.com) is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. MSD is a trade name of Merck & Co., Inc., with headquarters in Whitehouse Station, N.J., U.S.A. 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.

1 MDP Annual Highlights 2011

2 Diawara, L. et al "Feasibility of Onchocerciasis Elimination with Ivermectin Treatment in Endemic Foci in Africa: First Evidence from Studies in Mali and Senegal," PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases no. 3, vol. 7, Jul 2009, pp. 1-15, p. 1.

3 "Uganda's Success Against River Blindness: An Inspiration for Africa and an International

Challenge," The Carter Center, (http://www.cartercenter.org/news/pr/uganda-rb-022312.html - accessed 3/26/12).

4 Tekle, A. H. et al, "Impact of long-term treatment of onchocerciasis with ivermectin in Kaduna State, Nigeria: first evidence of the potential for elimination in the operational area of the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control," Parasites & Vectors, vol. 5, 2012, (http://www.parasitesandvectors.com/content/5/1/28/abstract - accessed 3/26/12).

5 Diawara et al. (2009) Feasibility of Onchocerciasis Elimination with Ivermectin Treatment in Endemic Foci in Africa: First Evidence from Studies in Mali and Senegal. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 3(7): page 8.

6 Republic of Sudan. Federal Ministry of Health. Press Release. May 2012. “Federal Health Ministry to declare interruption of transmission of River Blindness (Onchocerciasis) in Abu Hamad focus, River Nile State.” Page 4.