Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, and the MECTIZAN Donation Program (MDP), announced today a $500,000 cash donation to support non-governmental organization (NGO) partners working to eliminate river blindness (onchocerciasis) and lymphatic filariasis (LF). The funds are being provided by Merck and will be administered through an application process managed by the MDP, a public-private partnership that oversees elimination efforts of these two diseases. This funding will be offered in the form of grants to support the implementation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) recommended precautionary measures to decrease the risk of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 during mass drug administration (MDA).
In April, in response to the pandemic, WHO issued interim guidance to countries to suspend community interventions targeting the elimination of neglected tropical diseases, including MDA. After months of careful assessment, in July, WHO released a decision-making framework for resuming MDA during the ongoing pandemic. The framework is based on a two-step approach: a risk–benefit assessment to decide if the planned activity should proceed; and, if activities move forward, a list of precautionary measures that should be applied to help decrease the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and strengthen the capacity of the health system to manage any residual risk. These important precautionary measures will result in an increase in program costs, which may be a burden to some countries and their implementing partners.
“The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is especially challenging for communities that continue to be threatened by river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. We can’t lose momentum and must strengthen our global partnerships to eliminate these infections,” said Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, chief patient officer at Merck. “We hope these grants will help sustain the implementation of good public health measures and protect people’s safety as they fight against these preventable diseases during this especially difficult time.”
Dr. Yao Sodahlon, MDP Director, stated "As the global community continues to battle the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, we remain committed to the health of our staff, the health of our partners, and the health of endemic communities. This grant opportunity will facilitate the implementation of robust safety measures when mass drug administration with MECTIZAN resumes.”
Through the MDP and its partners -- including the ministries of health in endemic countries, impacted communities, NGOs, WHO, and donors -- more than 300 million people are reached each year. Since the inception of the program in 1987, Merck has donated more than 4 billion treatments.