Mectizan Program Notes – Autumn 2023

New video series examines the keys to success with Mectizan

Since the start of the Mectizan Donation Program in 1987, over 12 billion tablets have been donated for elimination of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. How do all those tablets reach the people who need them? It’s a complicated process requiring the collaboration of many stakeholders.
Join us on social media this month as we examine the pillars of success for eliminating river blindness and lymphatic filariasis with Mectizan.
Here is the first episode.

Eye-shaped logo for G.O.N.E. organization

Historic first meeting of GONE: November 1 & 2

The Mectizan Donation Program is pleased to support the first meeting of the Global Onchocerciasis Network for Elimination (GONE) on November 1 and 2 in Senegal. The meeting will convene the global partnership to improve collaboration and accelerate progress toward onchocerciasis elimination.

In addition to the meeting, GONE hosts regular webinars exploring country progress in river blindness elimination efforts. Each report is followed by a panel discussion with neighboring countries to address cross-border issues. Recent countries to be featured include Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, and Sierra Leone. Click here to see all GONE webinar videos.

A visit to the Mectizan factory

In 2022, the MSD factory in Haarlem, the Netherlands produced a record one billion tablets for shipment in a single year. To mark the occasion, MDP and members of the Mectizan Expert Committee visited Haarlem to meet the MSD* employees responsible for the manufacture of Mectizan. MSD President, SVP, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa region, Renan Özyerli was also on hand to congratulate the team responsible for 35 years of supplying this vital drug to #StampOutOncho and #EliminateLF: “This is a great example of successful public and private partnership,” he said. Visitors were then guided on a tour of the factory to see the complex manufacturing process to produce billions of tablets of Mectizan to be shipped to dozens of countries around the world.

Grantee tackles diagnostic backlog after successful training

Last year MDP and Merck* awarded a grant to strengthen laboratory capacity in order to support river blindness elimination in Africa. The World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center for Onchocerciasis Diagnostics at the College of Public Health, University of South Florida (USF) is currently providing training, laboratory supplies, and diagnostic assistance to partner countries.

An important part of the elimination verification process is transmission assessment surveys, which involves epidemiological assessments to analyze blood samples collected from children from endemic communities and entomological assessment by capturing thousands of tiny black flies from endemic areas and testing them for the presence of O. volvulus, the river blindness parasite. When the parasite is no longer detected in black flies, it is a sign that transmission of river blindness may be eliminated. But the painstaking inspection of samples requires well-functioning labs, which in the past has led to frustrating backlogs. Countries that may well be at the stage of stopping Mectizan distribution are unable to stop treatment without laboratory confirmation of transmission that has fallen below a breaking point. This could lead to costly delays for countries that are already operating on a limited budget. Building lab capacity is therefore critical to meeting elimination goals.

In Spring 2023, Dr. Hassan Hassan of USF conducted training for the staff of a grantee laboratory in Benin: the Centre de Recherches Entomologiques de Cotonou (CREC). He reports: “It was a pleasure to meet with the center’s director, Dr. Germain Gil Padonou, the NTD program director, Dr. Ndeye-Marie Adama Bassabi, and staff members. The volume of the work ahead of them was enormous, in terms of the number of flies they needed to process. Thanks to their knowledge and experience, the laboratory staff were ready to implement the protocols from the first day.”


Cover of a booklet with 4 photos. The first photo is an image of a blind man being led by a child holding a stick. The second image is of a man leaning over a river. The third image is a fly. The last image is of a forest. There is a logo for the World Health Organization at the top. Text reads Entomological manual for onchocerciasis elimination programmes

Entomological manual for river blindness released

The WHO has released a new guide, the “Entomological Manual for Onchocerciasis Elimination Programs,” to assist endemic countries in conducting the recommended entomological surveys. The illustrated 174-page manual covers subjects including characteristics of the black fly, selection of study sites, collection and preservation of insects for study, conducting analysis on samples, and more.

MEC member Dr. Coulibaly describes oncho elimination innovations in Mali

Mectizan Expert Committee member Dr. Yaya Ibrahim Coulibaly recently shared his knowledge in an online webinar entitled “Accelerating Onchocerciasis Elimination in Mali – Towards High Coverage and Acceptability of Mass Drug Administration among Hard-to-Reach Populations.” The free event was part of the iCHORDS Knowledge Exchange Café series and was moderated by fellow MEC member Dr. Alison Krentel. Click here to view a recording of the webinar.

69th meeting of the Mectizan Expert Committee held in Amsterdam

The 69th meeting of the Mectizan Expert Committee/Albendazole Coordination was held in Amsterdam and Haarlem, the Netherlands, in April. Agenda items included updates on MDP operations, pharmacovigilance, and the revised agreement between MDP and country partners for access to Mectizan. WHO and the regional offices and other partners provided updates on their activities in support of the elimination of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis around the world. The committee’s next meeting will be held October 30-31, 2023, in Dakar, Senegal.

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

MDP oversees the donation of Mectizan® by Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, New Jersey, USA to eligible countries where river blindness and lymphatic filariasis are endemic. Merck & Co., Inc. is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada. For the elimination of LF where onchocerciasis is co-endemic in Africa and Yemen, Mectizan is co-administered with albendazole, donated by GSK. In countries eligible for “triple therapy,” where onchocerciasis is not endemic, Mectizan and albendazole are co-administered with diethylcarbamazine (DEC) to accelerate LF elimination in some communities.

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