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Friday, December 12, 2014

Merck to Wipe Schistosomiasis off the face of Africa

By Esther Nakkazi

Ethiopia will receive around 13 million praziquantel tablets, treatment for schistosomiasis, in 2015.

Ethiopia is one of the most endemic countries for schistosomiasis in the world, says the World Health Organisation, with around 22 million people, or above 20 per cent of the entire population, needing treatment.

Merck (http://www.merckgroup.com), a leading company for innovative and top-quality, high-tech products in the pharmaceutical, chemical and life science sectors will donate the tablets.

The expanded Merck Praziquantel Donation Program will result in a financial commitment totaling around USD 23 million a year.

Merck is committed to the elimination of schistosomiasis, the parasitic worm disease, in Africa. At the beginning of 2012, it announced that it will fight schistosomiasis until the disease has been eliminated in Africa.

To reach this goal, the company will increase the annual donation of tablets up to 250 million in the medium term. The further scale-up of the program will allow the treatment of about 100 million children a year. Between 2011 and 2014, Merck’s annual donation has grown from 25 to about 75 million tablets.

"We have committed to continuing our efforts in Africa, in cooperation with WHO, until schistosomiasis is eliminated," said Frank Gotthardt, Head of Public Affairs at Merck and responsible for the Merck Praziquantel Donation Program.

According to a press release from APO, Gotthardt said that in order to fulfill this commitment, Merck will donate 100 million praziquantel tablets to African countries in 2015. Ethiopia will be one of the main beneficiaries of this donation.

The first meeting of the Global Schistosomiasis Alliance took place at the UN Conference Centre in Addis Ababa yesterday.

“This alliance will allow the different constituencies to engage in a coordinated approach to better address the challenges of meeting the elimination target”, commented Gotthardt.

The round table discussions and first global schistosomiasis meeting took place during the neglected tropical diseases week being hosted by the Ethiopian government from December 8 to 12.

The Merck Praziquantel Donation Program was launched in 2007. Since then, more than 200 million tablets have been supplied and over 54 million children have been treated.

It is also supporting awareness initiatives at African schools to explain the causes of schistosomiasis to children and teach them how to prevent the disease. Merck is also conducting research on a pediatric formulation of praziquantel for preschool children within the scope of a public-private partnership. So far, praziquantel tablets can only be administered to children over the age of six.

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