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Merck supports the worldwide fight against river blindness

Merck logoMerck & Co., Inc. partners with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to fight onchocerciasis, a neglected tropical disease.  Onchocerciasis, more commonly known as "river blindness," is transmitted through the bite of black flies and can cause intense itching, disfiguring dermatitis, eye lesions, and over time blindness and premature death. More than 100 million people are at risk of infection, and it is estimated that 18 million are currently infected. 

child leading man | © Bill VanderDecker

© Bill VanderDecker

Twenty years of the Merck MECTIZAN Donation Program has greatly reduced the risk that children in developing nations will go blind due to the tropical disease river blindness and suffer the same fate as their elders.

In 1987, Merck announced that it would donate Mectizan®—an anti-parasite medication used to treat river blindness—to all who need it, for as long as needed.  Since that time, Merck has supported UNICEF through in-kind product donations of Mectizan. UNICEF currently supports onchocerciasis control in Nigeria, which has one of the highest infections rates in the world. Overall, onchocerciasis is endemic in 33 states in Nigeria. UNICEF Nigeria supports the National Onchocerciasis Control Program in nine of those states with technical and financial assistance to implement critical activities, such as the community distribution of Merck's donated Mectizan. Through Merck's in-kind product donations to UNICEF Nigeria, over nine million people received Mectizan treatments in 2007. 

Mectizan relieves the agonizing itching that accompanies onchocerciasis, and halts progression towards blindness—two characteristics of the disease that dramatically affect the quality and duration of life. With only one annual dose, Mectizan is well suited for distribution in remote areas by community health workers. It is the only well-tolerated drug known to halt the development of river blindness.

Merck established the Mectizan Donation Program—a multisectoral partnership involving the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank and UNICEF, as well as ministries of health, non-governmental development organizations and local communities—to provide medical, technical and administrative oversight of the donation of Mectizan. Through this initiative, Merck is working with organizations like UNICEF to distribute the drug where it is needed most.  

Since the program's inception, Merck has donated more than 2.0 billion tablets of Mectizan, with more than 600 million treatments approved since 1988. The program currently reaches approximately 80 million people in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East (Yemen) each year. Today, the delivery system for Mectizan also provides a mechanism to support other health and social services, such as treatment for the prevention of lymphatic filariasis, vitamin A distribution, cataract diagnosis, immunization campaigns, training programs for community health workers and census-taking.

Merck also generously donated vaccines to UNICEF, which helped to halt a recent mumps outbreak in Moldova. The donated vaccines ensured children and adolescents were protected against the disease. 

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF would like to thank Merck for its commitment and support to the survival, development and growth of children throughout the world. 

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