MDP Program Notes – Autumn 2021

Summer and autumn have seen the careful resumption of Mectizan® mass drug administration (MDA) campaigns around the world with COVID-19 safety measures in place. There is hope that momentum can be regained in the coming months. In this newsletter, you will find news of progress made this year thanks to the determination of our partners to #EliminateLF and #StampOutOncho.



Screen shot of Instagram account belonging to Heal Foundation of Nigeria. Image shows health workers distributing Mectizan. Text says No one was left out.

In another very complicated year, many countries have managed to implement or even catch up on administration of Mectizan for river blindness and lymphatic filariasis elimination.

Recipients of the Mectizan Donation Program’s COVID-19 Mitigation Grants have been sharing what an MDA in the time of COVID-19 looks like. We’re grateful to partners like the HEAL Foundation in Nigeria, whose lively Instagram account shows how funding is used to supply masks and hand sanitizer for MDAs.



Three critical meetings gather stakeholders and partners for a powerful exchange of ideas

In October, MDP convened the 66th Mectizan Expert Committee/ Albendazole Coordination meeting; an onchocerciasis stakeholders gathering; and a meeting among MDP, Merck & Co. Inc.*, and NGO partners.


The 66th Mectizan Expert Committee/Albendazole Coordination (MEC/AC) meeting was held online on October 12 & 13, 2021, led by MEC Chair Pr. Gilbert Burnham. A broad range of partners participated, including members of MEC/AC; liaisons from WHO headquarters and WHO regional offices; and representatives from Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Eisai. The MEC/AC was pleased to welcome a new member: NTD expert Dr. Yaya Coulibaly of the University of Science, Techniques, and Technology of Bamako, Mali.


On October 14, another meeting was convened with 100+ onchocerciasis stakeholders brought together via Zoom. This wide variety of stakeholders has not been convened since the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) ended in 2015. The informal meeting was intended for all stakeholders to discuss the implications of the shift from onchocerciasis control to elimination of transmission as we begin working toward the 2030 onchocerciasis elimination goals included in the WHO NTD road map. During the meeting, participants 1) reviewed the goals assigned to onchocerciasis in the road map, 2) discussed opportunities and challenges for onchocerciasis elimination, and 3) considered how to improve collaboration to find synergies on the road to elimination of transmission of onchocerciasis.


Finally, a half-day meeting was held on October 15 for MDP, Merck, and Mectizan donees. The donees are non-governmental organization (NGO) partners that play a number of critical roles, one of which is to ensure Mectizan is received on behalf of endemic countries. Progress toward onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis elimination would not be possible without their support. Most of our NGO partners have been working alongside MDP from the very beginning. This meeting was organized to thank the donees for their critical work, provide an opportunity for updates, and open a dialogue for feedback.



Brenda Colatrella Retires from Merck & Co., Inc.

Photo of a smiling woman named Brenda Colatrella

Ms. Brenda Colatrella retired in August, stepping down from her position as Associate Vice-President, Corporate Responsibility at Merck. During her tenure at Merck, she served in roles of increasing responsibility. In her role as liaison to MDP, she served as the backbone of Merck’s revolutionary donation of Mectizan as it grew from shipping hundreds of thousands of treatments each year to shipping hundreds of millions. MDP is grateful for Brenda’s years of dedication and commitment to ensuring that Mectizan—pledged in 1987 to be donated “as much as needed for as long as needed”—is available to all who need it for river blindness and lymphatic filariasis (LF) elimination. This was no small feat. Brenda responded to feedback from the field and made significant changes to facilitate the distribution of Mectizan, including shepherding the change of packaging from foil strips to bottles to make it easier to open and to dose.


Today—thanks to Merck’s generous donation of Mectizan and Brenda’s advocacy and support for MDP—the suffering caused by river blindness is so rare that we can now say that it has been eliminated as a public health problem. This is a milestone that could not have been anticipated when Brenda began at Merck. As we follow the road map toward eliminating both diseases worldwide, we thank Brenda for her dedication, hard work, and steadfast partnership.


As Brenda departs, we are fortunate to continue working alongside Ms. Rachel Taylor, Merck’s Director, ESG Strategy and Engagement.



Latest WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record reports show progress despite pandemic

Covers of two Weekly Epidemiological Reports from W.H.O.

Autumn brings the release of the annual WHO Weekly Epidemiological Records for onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis status for the previous year. They report predictable slowdowns in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also offer details of progress made—including safe distribution of Mectizan, ongoing surveys, and care for affected individuals. Thanks to the resilience of country partners, the WHO road map targets are still in sight. Click to read the reports.



Take a break with this new video: “Treating Diseases in Remote River Communities”

Take a break from your busy day! Enjoy this new video from CBM and The END Fund, following a dedicated health worker as he distributes Mectizan to a hard-to-reach community on the banks of the River Tshuapa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Screen shot of a video showing a man who is building a canoe by the riverside.


Funds are still available for materials needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during Mass Drug Administration with Mectizan

In October 2020, the Mectizan Donation Program and Merck announced that $500,000 would be made available to support the implementation of precautionary measures to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) during MDA programs that include the distribution of Mectizan. The funding will be provided as grants to non-governmental organization (NGO) partners working to eliminate onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis.

For the remaining available funds, priority will be given to NGOs working in countries that have not yet received support from this COVID-19 mitigation grant. Visit the Mectizan Donation Program website to access the grant application and guidelines, or send an email to Senior Associate Director Joni Lawrence ( if you have any questions.



A Mectizan Expert Committee (MEC) statement on the use of Mectizan during the COVID-19 pandemic

The MEC reminds country partners that Mectizan is donated only for the elimination of onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis).


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought interest from the media and an increase in publications on the action of ivermectin on SARS-Cov-2 viral replication. While we recognize the importance of COVID-19 interventions, Mectizan is donated strictly and solely for onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis elimination in the 50 endemic partner countries that have applied and been approved for Mectizan by the MEC. Merck & Co., Inc.* manufactures Mectizan, and Mectizan is approved for use, in the appropriate dose, specifically for the treatment of onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis).


The Mectizan Donation Program provides treatments with the clear understanding that donated Mectizan will only be used for these two diseases through mass drug distribution programs. Use of donated Mectizan for any other indication and at unauthorized doses is strictly prohibited and can be dangerous.


*Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, New Jersey USA, is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada.


The Mectizan Donation Program is an international program to eliminate river blindness and lymphatic filariasis primarily funded by Merck, with support from GlaxoSmithKline.

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