Merck KGaA Donation Program Supports Schistosomiasis Control in Africa

Merck KGaAMerck 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."

The Merck Praziquantel Donation Program
The ten-year Merck Praziquantel Donation Program was agreed on with WHO in April 2007 and will provide for the delivery of 200 million tablets of Cesol 600. The assistance program for combating neglected tropical diseases focuses on countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where a majority of the approximately 200 million people infected with schistosomiasis live. Particularly children are affected by this worm disease with severe developmental disorders or suffer from its long-term consequences. Praziquantel is by far the most effective therapy to date for schistosomiasis infections - just one dose is often sufficient - and it is well tolerated. It is therefore on the WHO List of Essential Medicines.

About Schistosomiasis
Schistosomiasis is the second most prevalent tropical disease in Africa after malaria and is a serious public health and socio-economic issue in the developing world. This infectious disease is caused by schistoma (parasitic worms). The pathogen is transmitted through contact with contaminated water. The miniscule worms penetrate the skin and spread to the internal organs via the lymph and vascular systems, causing damage to the human body. The larvae develop into parasitic worms once they have reached the organs. The health hazard is extremely high when bathing in stagnant water in the tropics and subtropics. Warm, stagnant water is an especially ideal environment for the pathogens.

Schistosomiasis continues to be a major public health problem as more than 200 million people are infected. Almost 85% of those infected live in sub-Saharan Africa The disease primarily affects school children between the ages of 6 and 15 who play or bathe in stagnant water.

In children, schistosomiasis causes anemia, stunting and a reduced ability to learn. In adults, the disease restricts their ability to work. Around 200,000 people die each year from the effects of the disease.

About Merck KGaA
Merck is a global pharmaceutical and chemical company with total revenues of EUR 7.7 billion in 2009, a history that began in 1668, and a future shaped by approximately 40,000 (including Merck Millipore) employees in 64 countries. Its success is characterized by innovations from entrepreneurial employees. Merck's operating activities come under the umbrella of Merck KGaA, in which the Merck family holds an approximately 70% interest and free shareholders own the remaining approximately 30%. In 1917 the U.S. subsidiary Merck & Co. was expropriated and has been an independent company ever since.

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