January 30 marked World NTD Day, an occasion to raise awareness about neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). One such NTD is a disabling parasitic infection endemic in 34 countries called onchocerciasis (commonly known as river blindness)—the first NTD to be tackled by a public-private partnership.
For more than 35 years, Merck & Co., Inc.*, has committed to donating Mectizan® (ivermectin) to control and eliminate onchocerciasis and another NTD called lymphatic filariasis (LF). To manage the donation, Merck partnered with The Task Force to establish the Mectizan® Donation Program (MDP). To date, MDP has distributed more than 4 billion doses of treatments to onchocerciasis and LF endemic countries.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many disease elimination interventions. Routine health campaigns, including those that provide Mectizan®, were halted due to social-distancing requirements. To mitigate program disruptions, in October 2020, Merck and MDP contributed $500,000 to NGO partners in support of COVID-19 mitigation in endemic countries.
This additional support came as treatment efforts started resuming at the end of 2020 under new World Health Organization guidance that outlines the implementation of pandemic precautionary measures for health campaigns. Aiming to offset the additional costs of these measures, the support maximizes partnerships with local and grassroot organizations that conduct critical elimination activities like disease mapping, coalition building, and operational research.
It is thanks to these partnerships that onchocerciasis has been eliminated in four countries and treatments are reaching more than 400 million people annually. The story of the public-private partnership that led to these successes is captured in a new book called Riverblindness In Africa: Taming the Lion’s Stare by Bruce Benton, former World Bank Manager of the Onchocerciasis Coordination Unit for the Africa Region.
In honor of the second World NTD Day, Benton, MDP, and other onchocerciasis experts will come together on February 1 for a virtual symposium. The Power of Partnership: Defeating Onchocerciasis will highlight best practices learned during the 30+ year history of control efforts, partnerships, and innovation used by the global onchocerciasis elimination effort.
To register for the event, click here.
*Known as MSD outside the United States and Canada