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Donor Contributions Critical to Success of Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas

Carter Center Atlanta Office
Paige Rohe, +1-404-420-5129,

ATLANTA…Standing in his school's courtyard in El Xab, Guatemala, a blindfolded boy swings a large stick toward an enormous piñata shaped like a fly. Though the scene is a cheerful one, the children are learning something meaningful about the power of their community and country to fight the debilitating disease river blindness (onchocerciasis), which is spread by the bites of black flies that breed in swiftly flowing rivers.  With support from The Carter Center, national ministries of health, partners, and generous donors, hundreds of communities like El Xab across Latin America are building better health by wiping out river blindness from the Western Hemisphere once and for all.

"The progress toward eliminating river blindness from the Americas is encouraging, and the residents of the endemic communities should be proud that their hard work will reap a brighter future for their children," said former U.S. President and Carter Center Founder Jimmy Carter. Working in partnership with the six endemic nations—Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela—the Carter Center's Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) spearheads the campaign to interrupt river blindness in the region by 2012.

Since 1993, transmission has been interrupted in seven of 13 endemic areas in the Americas, no one has become blind from river blindness for a decade, and more than 82,000 persons no longer are at risk for the disease.  Colombia (2007) and Ecuador (2009) have become the first nations to interrupt transmission of river blindness through mass drug administration of Mectizan® (donated by Merck) and health education. Using the same interventions, Guatemala and Mexico likely will be the next to interrupt river blindness, and Venezuela and Brazil are making important progress against the disease. Strong partners in this historic elimination campaign have been critical to this progress.

"The last cases are the hardest and most expensive to tackle in any elimination effort," says Dr. Frank Richards, director of the Carter Center's River Blindness Program. Approximately US $20 million will need to be raised to finish the job and wipe out river blindness from the Americas. "We believe that the Americas could eliminate river blindness within the next few years with continued, intensified prevention and surveillance efforts," says Dr. Richards.

The Carter Center is pleased to announce that three recent donor contributions to the OEPA initiative represent the first steps toward helping endemic communities remove this debilitating disease once and for all.

The Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) has been a partner of The Carter Center for more than a decade; contributing major support to Carter Center river blindness programs in Africa (Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Sudan) as well as for OEPA activities. LCIF recently pledged $1.1 million to OEPA, made possible in part with funds generously provided by the Australian Lions Foundation.  Since 1999, LCIF has contributed more than $6 million dollars to The Carter Center for OEPA.  Local Lions Clubs of the six endemic countries in the Americas are consistent supporters of OEPA.

In October, the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) pledged $500,000 to OEPA. Funding from OFID is in acknowledgement of both the remarkable success and remaining challenges of the program to eliminate the parasite causing river blindness from the Western Hemisphere.  While this is OFID's first contribution to OEPA, previous support has been provided to the Carter Center's Guinea Worm Eradication Program and Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative.

In November, Merck, and its Mectizan Donation Program, announced a $150,000 pledge for OEPA. This new pledge will come in the form of a challenge grant, matching other donations dollar for dollar for a total of $300,000.  The grant will contribute to the monitoring period necessary after halting treatments to ensure that river blindness is defeated once and for all.  This generous financial support from Merck is in addition to the invaluable donation of Mectizan to OEPA.  Through Merck's Mectizan Donation Program, more than 9.6 million treatments of Mectizan have been provided in the Americas since OEPA began. The pledge by Merck to donate as much Mectizan as is needed for as long as necessary is one of the most generous pharmaceutical contributions to efforts to rid the world of diseases like river blindness.

Through a landmark public-private partnership including the ministries of health, the Carter Center-sponsored OEPA,  the Pan American Health Organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Merck and the Mectizan Donation Program, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Lions Clubs International Foundation, residents in El Xab and many other parts of the Americas are no longer plagued by the severely itchy skin, damaged vision, and other symptoms of river blindness that used to disable their communities. With continued treatment and surveillance activities of OEPA, El Xab and its neighbors can remove the scourge of onchocerciasis once and for all, perhaps inspiring other endemic countries around the world to work toward a similar goal.


Lions Clubs International Foundation is the charitable arm of Lions Clubs International, the largest service club organization in the world with 1.35 million members in 206 geographic areas and countries.  LCIF was recently ranked the number one NGO in a Financial Times study.  Since the beginning of the SightFirst program in 1990, Lions have restored sight to 7.68 million people with cataracts, prevented serious vision loss in 30 million people, and improved eye care services for hundreds of millions of people.  Lions have raised US $343 million to fund the SightFirst program.  For more information, visit

Australian Lions Foundation is one of Australia's largest service organizations with almost 28,000 members and 1,400 clubs across Australia.  Lions Australia raises over $20 million per annum to assist in community and health projects, and funding for Lions foundations and programs.  For more information, visit

The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) is an intergovernmental development finance institution, established in 1976 by the then 13 member countries of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).  OFID promotes cooperation between its member countries and other developing countries as an expression of south-south solidarity.  In particular, it supports the social and economic advancement of low-income countries.  Please visit to learn more about OFID.

Merck is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well.  Merck is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada.  Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and consumer care and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions.  We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to healthcare through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships.  For more information, visit

A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production.  The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.  Please visit to learn more about The Carter Center.  Follow us on Twitter

View slideshow: Guatemala's Fight Against Onchocerciasis >

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