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MDP Congratulates Colombia for achieving verification of elimination of river blindness

29 July 2013

Contact: Joni Lawrence, Associate Director, Communications   jlawrence@taskforce.org

The Mectizan Donation Program congratulates Colombia on its achievement as the first country to receive verification of elimination of river blindness from WHO.

DECATUR, GA USA — 29 July 2013 – The Mectizan Donation Program congratulates President Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian Ministry of Health and Social Protection, The Carter Center, and the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas and the Pan American Health Organization on the formal verification of elimination of the transmission of river blindness from Colombia. River blindness is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide.  Colombia is the first country in the Americas to eliminate the disease.

Colombia Minister of Health and Social Protection Dr. Alejandro Gaviria Uribe, former US President Jimmy Carter, and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter were joined at the ceremony by representatives of the Colombian government, the Carter Center’s River Blindness Elimination Program and the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas, Colombia’s National Institute of Health, and partners including the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Merck & Co., Inc.*, the Lions Clubs International Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Colombia is the first country in the world to be granted verification of elimination of river blindness by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The success in Colombia is attributed to the commitment of the government and to the inter-disciplinary public-private partnership to provide treatment with ivermectin (registered trademark Mectizan, donated by MSD) and health education sustained for more than 15 years between The Carter Center-sponsored OEPA, Colombia’s Ministry of Health and Social Protection, the endemic community, Lopez de Micay, Merck & Co., Inc., and the Mectizan Donation Program.

Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico are also near the goal to eliminate river blindness. All three countries halted drug treatment in 2012 and began the three-year post treatment surveillance process required by the World Health Organization (WHO) to verify elimination of the disease. The two remaining affected countries, Brazil and Venezuela, will continue treatment and will implement new strategies to reach the goal to eliminate the disease from the Americas by 2015.

“We are so proud of this is a remarkable achievement. It is tremendously rewarding to see that the MECTIZAN Donation Program and its partners have achieved this long held goal of making river blindness a disease of the past in Colombia,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer of Merck & Co., Inc.  “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.”

Colombia remains committed to the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and immediately following the ceremony to verify elimination of river blindness and on 30 July, the ministry of health will launch its 2013-2017 master plan for the prevention, control, and elimination of NTDs, which include soil transmitted helminthiasis, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, trachoma, and leprosy.

For more information, please view the news releases from our partners:

About The Mectizan Donation Program

In October 1987, Merck & Co., Inc. announced it would donate the medication MECTIZAN to all who need it for as long as necessary until onchocerciasis is eliminated as a public health problem. The MECTIZAN Donation Program reaches more than 100 million people annually. www.mectizan.org

In Latin America, since 1989, more than 10 million treatments of donated MECTIZAN have been delivered by community health workers and non-governmental organizations.

About MSD

*Merck is known as MSD outside the US and Canada. Today’s MSD is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. MSD is known as Merck & Co., Inc. in the United States and Canada. Through MSD’s prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and consumer care and animal health products, MSD operates in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions and increase access to healthcare through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. For more information, visit www.merck.com.

About The Carter Center’s OEPA

The Carter Center – through its sponsorship of Onchocerciasis Elimination Program of the Americas (OEPA) – is leading a coalition of partners in a historic effort to eliminate river blindness from the Western Hemisphere. The CarterCenter was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with EmoryUniversity, to advance peace and health worldwide. For more information, visit www.oepa.net or www.cartercenter.org