Established 25 years ago, the Mectizan Donation Program (MDP) is the longest-running, disease-specific, drug donation program and public/private partnership of its kind. The MDP secretariat is a partner of the Task Force for Global Health, and was established to provide medical, technical and administrative oversight of the donation of Mectizan.
Merck announced the donation of Mectizan, a breakthrough medicine for the treatment of onchocerciasis, in 1987 to all who needed it, for as long as needed. More commonly known as "river blindness," onchocerciasis is found in six countries in Latin America, in Africa, and in Yemen. It is transmitted through the bites of black flies and can cause intense itching, disfiguring dermatitis, eye lesions and, over time, blindness. The disease is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness worldwide. Mectizan relieves the agonizing itching that accompanies the disease and halts progression toward blindness. Administered once annually, Mectizan is well suited for mass distribution in remote areas by community health workers. It is the only well-tolerated drug known to halt the development of river blindness.
In 1998, Merck expanded the mandate of the program to include lymphatic filariasis elimination through the co-administration of Mectizan and albendazole, donated by GlaxoSmithKline, in African countries and Yemen where lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis are co-endemic. MDP provides oversight of the donation of both drugs in Africa and Yemen.
Currently, MDP approves more than 140 million treatments for onchocerciasis and 130 million for lymphatic filariasis annually. The success reaching this many people is largely due to the partnerships that have evolved in support of both disease elimination initiatives.
Thanks to the donations of Mectizan and albendazole, and to broad partnerships, the potential to eliminate both diseases as public health problems is not only feasible, but increasingly within reach. Our vision is a future free of the debilitating effects of both diseases.