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DECATUR, Ga., March 1, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Today the Mectizan® Donation Program (MDP) and MSD announced a $500,000 donation to strengthen laboratory capacity to support onchocerciasis elimination in Africa in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Collaborating Centre for Onchocerciasis Diagnostics at the College of Public Health, University of South Florida (USF).
Onchocerciasis (commonly known as river blindness)—the second leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide—is a parasitic disease transmitted by black flies that breed in fast-flowing rivers in 34 countries in Africa, Latin America, and Yemen. The disease causes severe itching, visual impairment, and ultimately, blindness if left untreated. After 35 years of treatment with Mectizan, donated by MSD, the disease has been eliminated in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico and several countries in Africa are on the way to elimination of the infection.
Public health laboratories play a pivotal role by providing, in a timely manner, quality data for decision making to improve the program operations and guide endemic countries towards the elimination of onchocerciasis.
Funds from this grant will be used to help laboratories in Africa to process the required serological and molecular (PCR) diagnostics for onchocerciasis. Specifically, the grant will contribute to the training of laboratory technicians in standard operating procedures, provision of reagents and commodities, and laboratory quality control. This is an important step in the elimination of onchocerciasis and is aligned with the Kigali Declaration’s commitment to increasing the provision of services that enable equitable access to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). This political declaration is expected to be endorsed by NTD stakeholders and aims to mobilize political will and commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 3 target on NTDs.
In 2018, the laboratory of Dr. Thomas R. Unnasch at the USF College of Public Health was designated a WHO Collaborating Centre for Onchocerciasis Diagnostics. Dr. Thomas Unnasch, Distinguished University Professor, serves as the director. The Center’s primary focus is diagnostics for river blindness. Dr. Unnasch has been collaborating for decades with WHO and ministries of health in countries where river blindness is being or has been eliminated.
Dr. Unnasch stated, “Our laboratory and now center has been focusing on onchocerciasis elimination for decades, both in Africa and in the Americas. In recent years, the feasibility of onchocerciasis elimination in Africa has been demonstrated. As countries begin to cease treatment with Mectizan* (ivermectin), the drug administered to at-risk populations once or twice yearly to help stop transmission, there is a need for quality-assured laboratories in Africa to measure progress, decide when is appropriate to safely stop treatment, detect and respond to potential recrudescence to protect the progress toward elimination. I look forward to helping laboratories in Africa by providing the tools and expertise needed to accelerate the elimination of onchocerciasis.”
MDP Director Dr. Yao Sodahlon stated, “After 35 years of MSD’s donation of Mectizan to everyone at risk of river blindness, we are optimistic that we can meet the goals established for onchocerciasis in the 2021-2030 WHO Road Map for Neglected Tropical Diseases aiming to eliminate transmission of onchocerciasis in 12 countries by 2030. This grant will facilitate the advisory mission of the national onchocerciasis committees and greatly improve key performance indicators of the national onchocerciasis elimination programs.”
About the Mectizan® Donation Program
The Mectizan® Donation Program (MDP) was established at the Task Force for Global Health in 1987 to provide medical, technical and administrative oversight of the donation of Mectizan® by MSD for the treatment of onchocerciasis. In 1998, MDP expanded its mandate to include the donation of Mectizan to be distributed in conjunction with albendazole (donated by GSK) for the elimination of lymphatic filariasis (LF) in onchocerciasis co-endemic areas. In 2017, MDP’s mandate was subsequently expanded to include MECTIZAN donation for the implementation of the WHO recommended triple therapy (Ivermectin + Diethylcarbamazine + Albendazole or IDA) to accelerate the elimination of LF in countries where river blindness is not endemic.
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