Medicine donations for neglected tropical diseases
Product donations to continue until neglected tropical diseases are eliminated or controlled
GSK, Eisai, MSD*, Merck**, Sanofi
schistosomiasis; river blindness (onchocerciasis); lymphatic filariasis; Human African Trypanosomiasis
Donating medicines indefinitely and/or beyond WHO-determined populations
To eliminate neglected tropical diseases
In 2018, the Index recognised the public commitment of several companies (Bayer, Eisai, GSK, MSD and Merck) to structured donation programmes as best practice aiming to control, eliminate or eradicate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
In 2020, five companies, namely GSK, Eisai, MSD, Merck and Sanofi, demonstrate best practice in product donations to tackle the devastating impact of NTDs. These companies have made a public commitment to donating medicines for an indefinite period of time until elimination of these diseases in endemic countries. Some have expanded their donations to include more patient populations beyond the WHO-set patient milestones.
Indefinite medicine supply until NTD elimination or control
Driven by the World Health Organization (WHO) Roadmap on NTDs and in partnership with WHO, pharmaceutical companies are responding to the global health risk posed by certain NTDs which are endemic in up to 42 countries in scope of the Index.
Lymphatic filariasis (LF) has drawn particular attention from three pharmaceutical companies as it still threatens 893 million people in 49 countries worldwide. Since 2013, Eisai is publicly committed to its programme in partnership with WHO that aims to eliminate LF by donating diethylcarbamazine citrate (DEC) in endemic countries until the end of LF. GSK is partaking in WHO’s annual mass drug administration programme to stop the spread of infection by donating its anti-parasitic medicine albendazole (Zentel®). The programme aims to alleviate suffering and prevent further disability in patients with LF. In addition, MSD has been working for more than 20 years to eliminate LF as part of its major donation initiative. Although not committed to an indefinite supply of medicine, the company publicly pledged to donate its product until 2020 to contribute to the disease elimination goals.
Besides the unlimited supply of medicine to eliminate NTDs, noteworthy are also the initiatives to expand donations to more patient populations than those outlined in the WHO Roadmap.
MSD has also targeted river blindness (onchocerciasis), which threatens the health of more than 200 million people globally. The company has dedicated itself to eliminating this disease through an unlimited supply of its medicine ivermectin (Mectizan®) beyond the WHO timeline goal to meet the treatment needs.
Schistosomiasis (bilharzia) affects the lives of at least 290 million people around the world. Since 2007, Merck has been donating praziquantel (Cesol®) to fight schistosomiasis. The Merck Schistosomiasis Elimination Programme (MSEP) began in 2007 in collaboration with WHO, primarily targeting school-aged children in Africa. This age group is most at risk of developing severe morbidity in adult life without access to treatment. In 2012, the company scaled up its commitment tenfold by agreeing to provide up to 250 million tablets each year until it reaches its goal of overcoming the disease.
Sanofi has a programme in partnership with WHO to eliminate Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT) by donating pentamidine (Pentacarinat®), eflornithine (Ornidyl®), melarsoprol (Arsobal®) and fexinidazole (Fexinidazole Winthrop®) since 2001. This company, too, has made a public commitment to provide indefinite supplies of treatment until the disease is eliminated.
Expanding access to more patient populations
Besides the unlimited supply of medicine to eliminate NTDs, noteworthy are also the initiatives of the pharmaceutical companies to expand their donations to more patient populations than those outlined in WHO’s roadmap.
GSK has expanded its donation programme beyond the LF-related goals set in WHO’s roadmap on NTDs: it has pledged to make its anti-parasitic product available to any validated member state that identifies areas of continuing transmission through recrudescence and to any untreated areas where transmission jeopardises elimination.
Further to the actions of Merck on an indefinite supply of its schistosomiasis treatment, the company renewed its collaboration with WHO in 2019, signing a new memorandum of understanding. This outlined new efforts to expand the target population to include all age groups by ensuring efficient use of tablets and redistributing unused supplies.
Finally, MSD expanded its donation programme to include those in remote areas through a community-directed approach. The company goes further with its community-directed treatment approach to improve mass-treatment programmes in remote areas, by introducing add-on services in communities where health services are limited.
* Merck & Co, Inc (Kenilworth, NJ USA)
** Merck KGaA (Darmstadt, Germany)