At a special ceremony at The Carter Center in Atlanta today, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Merck CEO Dr. Roy Vagelos, former Carter Center Executive Director, Dr. Bill Foege, and other guests and dignitaries from around the world gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Merck’s Mectizan® Donation Program.
“Twenty-five years after Merck’s unprecedented ongoing donation of Mectizan, significant progress has been made to reduce the suffering caused by river blindness,” said President Carter, whose Carter Center is working to eliminate river blindness from the Americas and wherever possible in Africa. “In Africa, where it was once thought the disease could only be controlled, strides are being made to completely eliminate it 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.”
The medicine Mectizan, or ivermectin, manufactured and donated by Merck to The Carter Center and other organizations, prevents and treats river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. The donation program has improved the lives of millions of people in some of the poorest and most neglected communities on earth.
Recognizing work to eliminate river blindness, or onchocerciasis, from the six countries where it has been endemic in the Americas, Merck awarded Carter Center Director of the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program of the Americas Dr. Mauricio Sauerbrey the 2012 Mectizan Award. He was nominated for the award by his peers for his “remarkable contributions to the control and elimination of onchocerciasis in the Americas through Mectizan distribution.”
Since 1996, The Carter Center has distributed more than 150 million treatments of Mectizan to the communities that need it most in 11 countries. In Uganda, a focus area of Sudan, and six countries in the Americas, government decisions to eliminate river blindness will enable scarce resources to be redirected to other critical health concerns. In 2012 alone, Mectizan treatments needed to prevent river blindness in these Carter Center-assisted areas will decrease by more than 1.2 million.
With continued health education and treatment in endemic areas, no one in the Americas has to fear becoming blind from the disease. Colombia and Ecuador were two of the first countries in the world to stop disease transmission through mass drug administration and health education, followed by Mexico and Guatemala, which made similar announcements in November 2011. Program efforts remain focused on Brazil and Venezuela.
In partnership with ministries of health, Lions Clubs International Foundation, and the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control, the Center has helped overturn decades of scientific belief, demonstrating it is possible to eliminate the disease in Africa; through health education and mass administration of Mectizan, three areas of Uganda and the Abu Hamed focus of the Republic of Sudan have successfully halted transmission.
In 2012, The Carter Center has begun an ambitious paradigm shift for its river blindness work in Africa, prioritizing elimination of river blindness wherever possible. During the next eight years, The Carter Center will focus and enhance its efforts by assisting the ministries of health of three African countries (Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Uganda) to demonstrate river blindness can be eliminated with intensified Mectizan treatments—increasing treatments to twice yearly in some areas and starting treatments in some previously untreated areas.
Read the Merck press release: On World Sight Day, Merck and Partners Mark 25 Years of Successful Collaboration to Help Eliminate River Blindness >