Merck KGaA is supporting the World Health Organization (WHO) in the fight against the neglected tropical disease schistosomiasis, which is the most common tropical disease in Africa after malaria and a major public health problem. Around 200 million people in Africa suffer from schistosomiasis, 200,000 of whom die each year. With the 10-year Merck Praziquantel Donation Program (MPDP), Merck is cooperating with WHO to donate around 200 million tablets containing the active pharmaceutical ingredient praziquantel (Cesol 600) in order to treat around 27 million school children.
A delegation comprising staff from Merck and from WHO, which coordinates the Merck Donation Program, obtained a convincing first-hand impression at a school in Louga, Senegal of the continuing de-worming intervention in Senegal. A total of more than 530,000 children were treated in the country for schistosomiasis in 2010 through the Merck donation.
“The donation by Merck has been instrumental to scale-up treatment of this preventable disease,” said Dr. Alimata Jeanne Diarra-Nama, WHO Resident Representative in Senegal. “We need to reinforce this exemplary public-private partnership by devising ways to reduce endemicity through behavioral change. Schistosomiasis is directly linked with water and personal hygiene. Educating school children on the use of latrines and healthy habits will help better understand the disease.”
Senegal is one of the first beneficiaries of the program. Merck is providing praziquantel through WHO to 12 endemic African countries. While the donation program itself was officially launched in 2007, shipment of praziquantel started in 2008. The other countries benefitting from this program are: Angola, Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zambia.
Merck is also supporting WHO to develop educational materials, including an illustrated book, which will be pilot-tested in Senegal and eventually distributed to other schistosomiasis-endemic African countries. This will enable children to find out how they can be treated for the disease and how they can protect themselves from it.
“We are expanding our commitment in this area from a pure disease treatment perspective to a focus on health protection and awareness, thereby making a further contribution to the sustainable fight against schistosomiasis,” explained Elmar Schnee, Member of Merck’s Executive Board with responsibility for the Pharmaceuticals business sector.
Latest figures from WHO show that more than 55 million tablets of praziquantel have already been made available to these 12 African countries and more than 10.2 million school-aged children have been treated for schistosomiasis since 2008. The number of tablets and treatment depends on the weight and height of the child. In many of the countries benefitting from the program, the praziquantel donation enabled the significant scale-up of schistosomiasis treatment, which had not been available through the health systems.
“We are proud that our donation program has helped to make such extensive progress in combating schistosomiasis,” said Frank Gotthardt, head of Public Affairs at Merck. “This would not have been possible without the excellent collaboration of the Senegalese Ministries of Education and Health as well as the effort by teachers who are contributing to make Senegal free of schistosomiasis.”
Date: December 8, 2010
Source: Merck KGaA