Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública
Print version ISSN 1020-4989
BLANKS, J et al. The Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas: a history of partnership. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 1998, vol.3, n.6, pp. 367-374. ISSN 1020-4989. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1020-49891998000600002.
The decision in 1987 by the pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co. to provide Mectizan® (ivermectin) free of charge to river blindness control programs has challenged the international public health community to find effective ways to distribute the drug to rural populations most affected by onchocerciasis. In the Americas, PAHO responded to that challenge by calling for the elimination of all morbidity from onchocerciasis from the Region by the year 2007 through mass distribution of ivermectin. Since 1991, a multinational, multiagency partnership (consisting of PAHO, the endemic countries, nongovernmental development organizations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as academic institutions and funding agencies) has developed the political, financial, and technical support needed to move toward the realization of that goal. This partnership is embodied in the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA), which is supported by the River Blindness Foundation (RBF) and now by the Carter Center. OEPA was conceived as a means of maintaining a regional initiative to eliminate what is otherwise a low priority disease. Since its inception in 1993, the OEPA has provided more than US$ 2 million in financial, managerial, and technical assistance to stimulate and/or support programs in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela, so as to take full advantage of the Merck donation. Now halfway into a five-year, US$ 4 million grant provided through the Inter-American Development Bank, the OEPA's capacity to support the regional initiative is assured through 1999.