Award winners

The Merck Mectizan Award is given annually to individuals who have made significant contributions to onchocerciasis control at the international level. 

Mr. John Moores - 2013

John Moores founded the River Blindness Foundation in 1990 after reading an article in the Houston Chronicle about the late Dr. William Baldwin's efforts to raise money to buy a van to travel through the Americas to distribute Mectizan, which had been donated by Merck & Co., Inc. (Merck & Co., Inc. is known as MSD outside Canada and the United States) in 1987 to all who need it for as long as needed. At the time, strategies and mechanisms to get the drug out to the millions of people who needed it were being developed by the Mectizan Expert Committee, but progress was slow. The donation of a drug on such a massive scale was unprecedented.

When Mr. Moores learned of Dr. Baldwin's mission to get the drug distributed in Latin America, he founded the River Blindness Foundation. He donated an estimated $25 million to not only fulfill Dr. Baldwin's vision for the Americas and establish the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas, but to also establish country programs in Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Sudan. The Foundation also set up partnerships with other NGOs and bi-lateral funding agencies working on river blindness control including CBM, Africare, Sightsavers, International Eye Foundation, Lion's Club International Foundation, the International Development Bank, and USAID to name a few.

In 1995, Mr. Moores transferred the River Blindness Foundation operations to The Carter Center where its legacy continued to flourish. In 2014, The Carter Center celebrated its 200 millionth assisted treatment and continues to facilitate the delivery of over 20 million treatments annually. There has been significant progress in the Americas where the disease has been eliminated from two countries and the remaining four countries are close eliminating river blindness from the region.

John Moores had the vision to see the Mectizan Donation Program as a tool to relieve suffering and, as a businessman, he recognized that providing resources for this cause would deliver an enormous return on the investment. Today, nearly 25 years after the River Blindness Foundation was established, millions no longer suffer from the disease and the possibility of eliminating the river blindness globally is becoming a reality.

Dr. Mauricio Sauerbrey - 2012

During Dr. Sauerbrey's long career in parasitology and tropical medicine, he has been a strong advocate for the elimination of onchocerciasis from the Americas. During his tenure with the Carter Center sponsored Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas, twice-yearly and in some cases quarterly treatment coverage rates have increased dramatically. His success reducing malaria in El Salvador despite difficult political circumstances is highly admirable. And the experience he gained developing decentralized strategies for malaria control has been a valuable asset to the effort to eliminate onchocerciasis from the Americas. Onchocerciasis is not a fatal disease, nor does it cause significant morbidity in the Americas, making it a low priority for ministries of health. Through Dr. Sauerbrey's leadership and diplomacy, all six countries in the Americas have diligently worked to eliminate onchocerciasis. Colombia will be the first country worldwide to achieve certification of elimination, and Ecuador is close behind. It is very encouraging that Guatemala and Mexico have both stopped treatment and have entered the post-treatment surveillance phase. With only two small foci remaining in Brazil and Venezuela, the goal has nearly been achieved and there is no doubt the Americas will achieve elimination.

Dr. Bjorn Thylefors - 2011

As one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of tropical ophthalmology, Dr. Thylefors was a strong advocate for the prevention of blindness in the developing world. His role as a major contributor to the Vision 2020 plan for the elimination of avoidable blindness, which was built on strategies first developed in the field of onchocerciasis control as well as the partnerships developed for the relief of suffering caused by river blindness.

In the 1970s Dr. Thylefors contributed to the newly formed Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP), conducting groundbreaking research on the ocular morbidity associated with ocular onchocerciasis infection. Later, in 1994, he played a key role in the formation of the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC).

Following the initiation of the MECTIZAN Donation Program in 1987, Dr. Thylefors worked to build partnerships with WHO, Ministries of Health and nongovernmental development organizations (NGDOs) that are still effective more than 20 years later. The foundational work he conducted with WHO and the NGDOs led to the formation of the NGDO Coordination Group for Ivermectin Distribution in 1991, a critical component of the global onchocerciasis partnership structure.

During his tenure as director of the MECTIZAN Donation Program from 2001 – 2007, treatments with MECTIZAN for onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis rose from 45 million to 80 million annually. Additionally, he led new research efforts to understand and address the challenges of MECTIZAN distribution in areas co-endmemic for loiasis and onchocerciasis. He was also instrumental in forming partnerships needed for the scale up to eliminate lymphatic filariasis, including the LF NGDO network and in building partnerships and strategies that are part of the foundation of the current preventive chemotherapy for Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) programs.

The accomplishments above and Dr. Thylefors many other important endeavors reflect his outstanding commitment to the fight against onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis.

Dr. Ed Cupp - 2009 

Merck and the Mectizan Donation Program are pleased to announce that Dr. Ed Cupp is the recipient of the 2009 Merck Mectizan Award. Dr. Cupp was nominated by his peers nominated for his remarkable contributions to the control and elimination of onchocerciasis.

Dr. Cupp has amassed a number of achievements that make him well-qualified for the award:

In the 1980's he participated in groundbreaking clinical and epidemiological trials with ivermectin in Liberia and Guatemala. Despite civil unrest in both locations, he persevered and helped deliver scientific results that were essential in the eventual donation of Mectizan for mass distribution to fight onchocerciasis. He conducted seminal studies on the frequency of treatment with Mectizan, which led to twice yearly treatment cycles being established in the Americas beginning in 1994.  As a result, the cycle of onchocerciasis transmission is being broken, and more than 31% of the formerly at-risk population in the Americas is now free of the risk of infection. Dr. Cupp serves as a member of the Mectizan Expert Committee, allowing your expertise to inform the general technical oversight of global onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis programs. As both a member and chair of the Program Coordinating Committee of the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program of the Americas, Dr. Cupp's technical competence and managerial expertise provided invaluable contributions to program development.

Dr. Cupp’s acceptance speech:

"I thank Merck and Company and the Mectizan Donation Program for naming me the 2009 Mectizan Award recipient. I am both honored and humbled by this award because there are many other equally qualified colleagues in the field of onchocerciasis control who could have been chosen. I thank my colleagues who nominated me and supported my nomination through their letters and words of encouragement. Their actions are much appreciated. I want also to thank my wife, Dr. Mary Cupp, for the support she provided through the years as I worked away from home in Africa and the Americas. Her professional contributions as a major collaborator in my research efforts are greatly appreciated as well. Finally, I want to thank my colleagues in the onchocerciasis research community whose work through the years has inspired me to continue in this important area of tropical public health.

I began working in onchocerciasis control in 1984 as a member of a team assembled by WHO in Liberia to evaluate the usefulness of ivermectin. However, I had already seen the ravages of onchocerciasis in  Guatemala in 1968 as a graduate student touring that country and it galvanized my decision to focus on vector biology and disease control. Little did I realize at the time that I would have such a great opportunity to contribute to control of human onchocerciasis twenty years later. After beginning research and evaluation of ivermectin in Liberia, I was forced to move to Guatemala because of civil unrest and continue field evaluations there. Through the efforts of many, the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) was eventually founded and is succeeding in eliminating the disease in the western hemisphere. It has been a great pleasure to work with OEPA staff and particularly the Director, Dr. Mauricio Sauerbrey, who has been a friend and colleague for more than 30 years.

I would also like to dedicate this award to four late colleagues who were instrumental in helping shape my professional development in onchocerciasis control over the past 25 years. They are Dr. Mohammed Aziz of Merck and Company who was instrumental in bring ivermectin to Africa and organizing some of the first evaluations; Dr. Bruce Green who was a close friend and research team leader in Liberia in the mid-1980s; Dr. Brian Duke, a good friend and mentor who was also a great inspiration by his leadership in developing the science of onchocerciais control, and; Dr. Onofre Ochoa, a very good friend and colleague who so ably assisted me and the research team in Guatemala during several important field studies. Again, thank you all for this great honor.

Ms. Catherine Cross – 2008 

We are pleased to congratulate Catherine Cross of Sightsavers International, the 2008 recipient of the Merck Mectizan Award. When informed of the award Catherine commented “...this award celebrates the achievements of Sightsavers’ staff and partners over two decades. The award is in recognition of this.”

The Award was given to Catherine during a reception held during the 20th Mectizan Expert Committee/Albendazole Coordination Meeting in London in October 2008. During her acceptance speech Catherine said “I am absolutely delighted to receive this award and in doing so I would like to pay tribute to my colleagues at Sightsavers - the programme staff in the oncho-endemic countries who work with the national programmes and also the fundraisers in the UK who motivate the British public to give generously to oncho control. This has made it possible for Sightsavers to support 20 million treatments annually in 13 countries in Africa. However none of this would be possible without the free drug and I would like to thank Merck and MDP for maintaining their commitment.

It is no secret that oncho has been my favourite programme in my 15 years with Sightsavers. This is in a large part thanks for the partnership and to the people in the partnership many of who are in this room. I hope not to lose touch completely but wish you all the best in the face of the future challenges - when to stop treatment and how to integrate with the other neglected tropical diseases. Thank you.”

Her achievements during her 15 years with Sightsavers are many. She was nominated for the Award by her peers in recognition of her leadership in the fight against onchocerciasis working with partners to distribute Mectizan in Sightsavers countries in Africa including Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. She played a key role in the development of global programs including the Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness (VISION 2020: The Right to Sight) and the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC). Ken Gustavsen, Director, Global Health Partnerships, Merck commented: "We congratulate Catherine Cross on her selection for this award. Her unique vision and commitment are an example to all those dedicated to the success of the Mectizan donation program."

Dr. Donald Hopkins - 2007 

The Mectizan Donation Program is pleased to announce that Dr. Donald R. Hopkins, Vice President for Health Programs at The Carter Center, was awarded the 2007 Merck Mectizan Award. The Award was presented in November 2007 in Quito, Ecuador during the InterAmerican Conference on Onchocerciasis.

Dr. Hopkins was selected based on his remarkable contributions to the control and elimination of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. Activities and accomplishments cited as examples of his commitment and dedication included:

Dr. Hopkins’ instrumental role in establishing the Carter Center's River Blindness Program in 1996. Today, The Carter Center is enabling the delivery of Mectizan to millions of people in thousands of communities in six countries in Latin America and five in Africa.

He demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the elimination of onchocerciasis in the Americas through the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program of the Americas (OEPA). As a result, treatment with Mectizan is no longer necessary in many previously endemic areas and the goal of eliminating the disease in the Western Hemisphere is becoming a reality.

He established the role of the Carter Center as a center of excellence for operational research into disease surveillance, and monitoring and evaluation of onchocerciasis control and elimination programs, to the benefit of all the partners in the global fight against river blindness.

Dr. Hopkins championed the successful application of lessons learned from the program partners of the Mectizan Donation Program to other disease control and elimination initiatives such as lymphatic filariasis and trachoma. The accomplishments above and Dr. Hopkins’ many other important endeavors reflect his continued commitment to the fight against onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis.We congratulate him on this most deserved award.

Dr. Hugh Taylor - 2006 

The Mectizan Donation Program is pleased to announce that Professor Hugh Taylor has been selected as the recipient of the 2006 Merck Mectizan Award. Professor Taylor was nominated for the award by his peers in recognition of his numerous important contributions and sustained dedication to the fight against onchocerciasis. 

He was involved early on in the research for chemotherapy to control onchocerciasis. Soon after ivermectin was developed, Professor Taylor published a number of studies including a comparison of diethylcarbamazine (DEC) and ivermectin for the treatment of onchocerciasis, the effects of ivermectin on onchocerciasis transmission, the safety of community-based treatment, early adverse reactions and others.

Professor Taylor is internationally recognized as a leader in blindness prevention and research. He is currently the Ringland Anderson Professor and Head of the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Melbourne, and Managing Director of the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA).

He has published 10 books and more than 500 papers based on his research interests, which include blindness prevention strategies, infectious causes of blindness, the delivery of eye care to developing countries, and the adverse effects of UV light on the eye.

In addition to the Merck Mectizan Award, he has received a number of prestigious awards around the world. During the 2001 Queen’s Birthday Honours in Australia, Professor Taylor was made a Companion in the Order of Australia, the country’s highest civic honor, in recognition “for service to medicine in the field of ophthalmology, particularly through renowned work in the prevention of river blindness in the third world, to academia through research and education related to the prevention of eye disease, and to the development of policy on eye health in indigenous communities.” He also received the Paul Harris Award from Rotary International, the International Blindness Prevention Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Mildred Weisenfeld Award made by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in recognition of his contribution to visual science and ophthalmology, and the Gold Medal from the International Organization against Trachoma.

Though Professor Taylor was unable to attend the 36th Mectizan Expert Committee/Albendazole Coordination (MEC/AC) meeting, where the award was announced, he is planning to accept the award at the next MEC/AC meeting.

Dr. Yankum Dadzie - 2005 

The Mectizan Donation Program would like to congratulate Dr. Yankum Dadzie - recipient of the 2005 Mectizan Award. The award was presented to Dr. Dadzie in London during the 35th meeting of the Mectizan Expert Committee/Albendazole Coordination in January 2006. The Mectizan Award is presented to individuals who are internationally recognized for their outstanding dedication to onchocerciasis control. Recipients are selected by the Mectizan Expert Committee Chair and by Merck 

Dr. Dadzie was selected for the award because of his long-term outstanding dedication to onchocerciasis control and his more recent involvement with the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis. He was instrumental in the introduction of Mectizan large-scale chemotherapy into onchocerciasis control activities and served as the first Coordinator of the Non-Governmental Coordination Group for Onchocerciasis Control. Dr. Dadzie later became the director of the Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP). He also facilitated the formation of National Onchocerciasis Task Forces by uniting the efforts of APOC, Non-Governmental Development Organizations and Ministries of Health in the development of National Plans of Action for onchocerciasis control. 

Dr. Dadzie also published a number  of important scientific papers on the use of Mectizan to combat onchocerciasis, which added valuable technical resources to the scientific literature for the advancement of the elimination of onchocerciasis as a public health problem. 

Now Dr. Dadzie is applying his expertise to the elimination of lymphatic filariasis. He is helping to integrate the activities of the Global Program to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GPELF) with existing onchocerciasis control activities in Africa in his capacity as Chair of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and he is serving as the first chair of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis Executive Group, which will help bring continuity to lymphatic filariasis elimination efforts by uniting the many program partners involved in the GPELF and by helping mobilize the funds needed for program implementation at the country level.

Dr. Seydou Mariko - 2004 

The Mectizan Donation Program would like to congratulate Dr. Seydou Mariko - recipient of the 2004 Mectizan Award. The award was presented to Dr. Seydou Mariko at the offices of the Organisation pour la Prévention de la Cécité (OPC) in Paris during a reception held in conjunction with the 33rd Mectizan Expert Committee/Albendazole Coordination meeting on October 13, 2004. 

The Mectizan Award is presented to individuals who are internationally recognized for their outstanding dedication to onchocerciasis control.  Recipients are selected by the Mectizan Expert Committee Chair and by Merck 

Based in Mali, Dr. Mariko has worked for the OPC for a number of years. He is known for his ability to reach onchocerciasis endemic communities in remote areas with Mectizan treatment, and has developed a strong network in Guinea, Mali, and Senegal resulting in high treatment coverage. In 2002, more than 2 million people in 6,000 villages were treated in those countries. Dr. Mariko helped develop the Community Directed Treatment with Ivermectin (CDTI) strategy with pilot programs that were later implemented in Guinea, Mali, and Senegal and replicated throughout the region. 

He has also worked toward increasing awareness of onchocerciasis and Mectizan treatment at the local, national, and international levels. He is well respected throughout the region, which has resulted in highly successful collaborations. Dr. Mariko is also well known for his ability to successfully adapt treatment strategies to difficult situations such as refugee camps in Guinea. His success in the effort to control onchocerciasis well qualifies him for the Mectizan Award.

To nominate someone for the 2005 Mectizan Award, please complete a nomination form online or contact the Mectizan Donation Program.  The Mectizan Donation Program encourages you to nominate those who have made outstanding contributions to the control of onchocerciasis.

Dr. Adenike Abiose - 2003 

The Mectizan Donation Program would like to congratulate Dr. Adenike Abiose of Kaduna, Nigeria, and Mr. Joseph Gabu of Bahr al Ghazal, Sudan, recipients of the 2003 Mectizan Award at the international and district levels, respectively. The Mectizan Award is given to individuals who contribute to onchocerciasis treatment programs (in the context of public health or primary health care) above and beyond the call of duty, display proven dedication to the cause, and exhibit extraordinary leadership. 

Ms. Joan Wainwright, Vice President of Public Affairs at Merck, announced both awards during a ceremony held at Merck’s headquarters on October 29, 2003 and presented Dr. Abiose with her award. 

Dr. Abiose has demonstrated a commitment to onchocerciasis control through more than 30 years of work on the disease at the national and international levels. The following is an excerpt from her acceptance speech: 

“As I reflect on 30 years of onchocerciasis control, the donation of Mectizan for as long as necessary by Merck, the partnerships that have developed around this, and the progress made in the field, I feel very humbled to have been nominated for this Mectizan Award. 

It is rather contradictory that I should be receiving this award. Coming from an onchocerciasis endemic country and community, and having been infected with onchocerciasis myself earlier in life, I should rather have been standing here to give an award of appreciation to Merck & Co., on behalf of endemic communities for the generous donation of Mectizan. Mectizan donation means much more to endemic communities than getting the tablets to the needy communities at the end of the road, for as long as necessary. It means also the capacity development in endemic countries to face the challenges not only of onchocerciasis control, but also other disease control programs. It means getting health services to some communities at the end of the road for the very first time and using the structures developed around Community-Directed Treatment with ivermectin for Mectizan distribution to address other health and community development activities. It means research opportunities for scientists from endemic countries, opportunities which they may not have had otherwise. Such an opportunity played a major role in my being here today. Mectizan also means empowering the communities at the end of the road to take responsibility for their own health and the health of their families. 

The unique demonstration of corporate responsibility by Merck & Co., 16 years ago in the donation of Mectizan to communities, which could not otherwise afford it, opened a new chapter in public health, which has been followed by other donations like albendazole and azithromycin. For these reasons and for the dedication of all involved in the Mectizan Donation Programme and in onchocerciasis control, I cannot adequately express the gratitude of all endemic communities. . . . 

I thank Merck most sincerely for this award, which I shall always cherish. Thank you all and God bless.”

Mr. Joseph Gabu - recipient of the 2003 district level Merck Mectizan Award

Mr. Joseph Rakuba Gabu of Bahr al Ghazal, Sudan is the winner of the 2003 Merck Mectizan Award at the district level. The award will be presented to Mr. Gabu in Sudan by a representative on behalf of Merck and the Mectizan Donation Program. Mr. Gabu has served as the focal point for onchocerciasis control in Bahr al Ghazal, Sudan since 1977 and in spite of the civil conflict afflicting the region since 1955, has remained committed to delivering Mectizan to those in need. He was appointed zonal coordinator in 1997 in an area with extremely high prevalence of onchocerciasis. Mr. Gabu is well known for obtaining high coverage for his area - even in high-risk areas near the borders between Operation Lifeline Sudan and the Government of Sudan. He maintains the onchocerciasis clinic in the local hospital and supervises Community-Directed Treatment with Ivermectin in the region along with other responsibilities including health education, community mobilization, and training of Community-Directed Distributors. Mr. Gabu is well known and highly respected in Bahr al Ghazal and in the rest of onchocerciasis-endemic southern Sudan for his long-standing commitment and dedication to onchocerciasis control. 

Recipients of the inaugural Merck Mectizan Award - 2002

The winners of the 2002 Mectizan Award were announced on 5 September 2002 in Tanzania during the 15th Anniversary Celebration. The recipients, Mr. Chukwu Okoronkwo and Dr. Brian O.L. Duke, received awards for their outstanding contributions to the control of onchocerciasis. Dr. Guillermo Zea-Flores also received the  Mectizan Donation Program's Special Achievement Award during the 2002 InterAmerican Conference on Onchocerciasis

Dr. Brian O.L. Duke - recipient of the 2002 Merck Mectizan Award

Dr. Brian O.L. Duke received the international level award. Dr. Duke has worked on onchocerciasis for more than 40 years, and pioneered some of the early studies on the disease. He was a key player during the planning stages for mass distribution of Mectizan. The following is an excerpt from Dr. Duke’s acceptance speech: 

... some eight years after the end of the Second World War, onchocerciasis was still a rather obscure disease appearing in small print at the back of the textbooks on tropical medicine, and not very much was known about its importance.  It so happened that a number of independent research teams were then established, in Upper Volta, Cameroon and in East Africa to make a thorough investigation of the epidemiology, entomology and socio-economic consequences of this disease.  Over the next 15-20 years a great deal was learned about the disease, and the devastating effects of River Blindness, causing desertion of fertile riverine land and impeding socio-economic development, were revealed.

The results of this research work led, in 1969, to the Tunis meeting (involving WHO, the OCCGE and United States Agency for International Development) and to the decision to set up the multi-country Onchocerciasis Control Programme in the Volta River Basin (OCP) in 1974. This programme, which depended on the regular and widespread aerial applications of rapidly biogegradable insecticides to the riverine breeding sites of the insect vector, Simulium damnosum, and which was supported by a vital operational research element, was a great success.  It virtually stopped transmission over a huge area. Children born after the programme started remained uninfected and free from the threat of blindness. There were enormous socio-economic benefits and development of previously-deserted land in the area; but, unfortunately, many of those people already infected went on to go blind because no drug suitable for large-scale rural use was available.

At that time there were several drugs, notably diethylcarbamazine (DEC), that could kill the microfilariae, but they all killed these parasites in situ and thus excited severe and sometimes devastating reactions in the skin and eye, which prevented their use on a large scale.  Then, suddenly out of the blue from Merck, came a new and different microfilaricide, namely ivermectin or Mectizan .  This one merely paralysed the microfilariae in the skin and they were then swept into the lymphatic system and therein destroyed, without much reaction, in the same way as the body deals with many other foreign invaders.  It could thus be used for mass treatment.

Merck then had another brilliant idea.  Realising that the millions of rural people with onchocerciasis in Africa and Latin America would be far too poor to buy their drug, they decided to start the Mectizan Donation Program, providing the drug free wherever it was needed in endemic countries and for as long as necessary….”  

Mr. Chukuw Okoronkwo - recipient of the 2002 district level Merck Mectizan Award

Mr. Chukwu Okoronkwo of the Ministry of Health and NGDO Coalition in Nigeria received the Community/District level award. Mr. Okoronkwo was nominated for the award for his commitment to onchocerciasis control in Nigeria. He developed the “Nigeria Onchocerciasis News” newsletter and is known for his census validation work and its application in obtaining Nigeria’s ultimate treatment goal. In response to receiving the award Mr. Okoronkwo said: 

“I wish to thank Merck & Co for the honour bestowed on me in selecting me as one of the inaugural winners of The Merck Award. My appreciation also goes to all those who nominated me for the award.

I have never felt that I was doing anything extraordinary. I have been guided by one principle: 'whatever your hands find to do, do it to your utmost ability as unto God, and not to man only'. I have therefore just been trying to do what I believe is right and necessary.

This award will no doubt send positive signals to many who have been putting in their best but feel that their efforts are not being appreciated or recognised. For me it is an encouragement to keep on working.” 

Dr. Guillermo Zea-Flores Receives the Merck Mectizan Donation Program’s Special Achievement Award 

During the commemoration of the Mectizan Donation Program’s 15th anniversary, Dr. Guillermo Zea Flores, Expert Advisor to the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA), was presented with the Mectizan Donation Program Special Achievement Award during the 2002 InterAmerican Conference on Onchocerciasis in Manaus, Brazil. The award was given to Dr. Zea-Flores in recognition of his “steadfast dedication and vital contributions” to the development and sustainability of Mectizan mass distribution in Latin America. 

Dr. Zea-Flores’ work on onchocerciasis began in 1977 with the Guatemala Ministry of Public Health where he remained until 1991, during which time he played a key role in the search for a safe and effective drug to treat onchocerciasis. 

Much of his research was conducted during the war in Guatemala, which was often fought in onchocerciasis endemic areas. Dr. Zea-Flores and his field staff worked in these areas of conflict where they encountered gunfire and their vehicles were burned. In addition to these enormous challenges, they often worked in rough terrain with little or no road access. 

Dr. Zea-Flores’ participation in the early development of Mectizan has been instrumental in the Mectizan Donation Program’s success. In 1985 he was asked by Merck, Sharp & Dohme to serve as principal investigator in Latin America during the phase III trials of Mectizan (ivermectin, MSD).  Following Merck’s announcement of the donation of Mectizan in 1987, Dr. Zea-Flores became one of the first members of the Mectizan Expert Committee and was a key player in the early planning for mass distribution of Mectizan. He has been involved with OEPA since its inception in 1993 providing technical assistance and support for all six endemic countries in Latin America. With his guidance, OEPA is sure to achieve its goal to eliminate morbidity and transmission of the disease.

Dr. João Sanches of Merck in Brazil presented Dr. Zea-Flores with the award commenting, “His dedication is unparalleled. His courage and perseverance astounding. His vision and ability to motivate others to work with him toward the goal of elimination remarkable. Dr. Zea-Flores is a true leader in public health. Quite simply, because of Dr. Zea-Flores, thousands of people in Latin America no longer face the devastation wrought by onchocerciasis.”