Press Release: Merck and Partners Make Progress In Long-Term Commitment to End River Blindness
Colombia to Request Certification by the World Health Organization of Historic Elimination of River Blindness
WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. and Bogota, Colombia, Nov. 11, 2011 – Public health officials at the 21st Inter-American Conference on Onchocerciasis in Bogota, Colombia announced that Colombia has eliminated onchocerciasis (river blindness) within its borders, making it the first country suffering from river blindness in the Americas to reach this goal. It also was announced that Guatemala and Mexico have now broken the cycle of transmission of river blindness. Both countries will halt their drug treatment programs for the disease in 2012 and begin the three-year post treatment monitoring process, already completed by Colombia, and required by the World Health Organization (WHO) to certify elimination of the disease. Officials attribute the successes in Latin America to a sustained public-private partnership led by The Carter Center that offers health education and drug treatment donated by Merck.
The Carter Center – through its Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) partnership – assists national ministries of health in six affected countries in Latin America to conduct health education and distribute Merck’s medicine, ivermectin (registered trademark MECTIZAN). Other members of the partnership include the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Lions Clubs International Foundation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“River blindness is a devastating disease that multiplies the challenges and burdens already faced by poverty stricken populations,” said former U.S. President and Carter Center founder Jimmy Carter. “Thanks to thousands of dedicated health workers and volunteers in the Americas and the generosity of Merck and the Mectizan Donation Program, this public health threat will soon be eliminated from the Western Hemisphere.”
“It is tremendously rewarding to see our partnership starting to achieve its long held goal of making river blindness a disease of the past. These milestones clearly demonstrate that public-private partnerships like this one are critical to achieving real improvements in global health,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, President and CEO of Merck. PAHO’s Directing Council passed a resolution in 2008 calling for the interruption of transmission of river blindness in Latin America by 2012. In Latin America, river blindness has historically affected people in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela.
Starting in 2012, approximately 80 percent of the half-million people in the region previously at risk will no longer be in need of treatment for river blindness. With today’s news, Guatemala and Mexico join Colombia and Ecuador in having broken disease transmission country-wide. The two remaining affected countries, Brazil and Venezuela, will continue treatment.