By Yerima Kini Nsom
A German pharmaceutical company known as MERCK, has donated 23.8 million tablets of Praziquantel for the treatment of schistosomiasis in Cameroon.
The Minister of Public Health, Andre Mama Fouda, announced the donation in a press conference in Yaounde last week. The occasion marked the visit of the MERCK Board Chair, Dr Frank Stangenberg- Haverkamp and the company’s representative in the West and North Africa regions, Karim Bendhaou to Cameroon.
Since 2008, the Minister disclosed, MERCK has donated 23.8 tablets of Praziquantel, the drug used for the treatment of schistosomiasis. The Minister thanked MERCK officials for helping the Government to fight the disease which he said is related to poverty.
To him, schistosomiasis remains a public health problem in Cameroon given that it infects two million people, mostly children. More than five million people who live in high risk areas are potential victims, he added. He said the Praziquantel donation by MERCK has significantly increased the number of children treated against the disease from 35.000 children in 2006 to more than 2.3 million in 2012. This represents a declining prevalence rate from 16 percent to 97 percent in various localities in Cameroon.
While highlighting the annual campaign that Government carries out against the disease, the Minister said their ambition was to eliminate it by touching every endemic area in the country. He appealed to MERCK and the World Health Organisation, WHO, to continue to support Government to eradicate the disease in Cameroon.
The MERCK Board Chair said his firm is a commercial outfit “but we give back to the society part of the gain that we make in donations”. To him, MERCK shoulders enormous corporate social responsibility to fight disease and make the world a better place to live in.
“This year’s donation is the largest donation to Cameroon since the launch of the programme in 2008”, Dr. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp said. He said MERCK is active in more than 66 countries in the world. The company, he hinted, intends to further develop the pharmaceutical market.
For his part, Karim Bendhaou said he was happy when he visited a school in the Nkolbisson neighbourhood in Yaounde and discovered that cases of the disease were in sharp decline.
Said he: “We are proud of the Praziquantel donation programme results in Cameroon to fight schistosomiasis. This work would not be possible without dedicated collaboration between the Ministry of Health, WHO and MERCK to fight this neglected tropical disease”. He said MERCK has donated Praziquantel to a total of 21 African countries and is committed to increase the annual donation from 75 million this year to 250 million tablets annually by 2016. Going by him, MERCK is committed to support WHO in the onslaught to eliminate this Neglected Tropical Disease, NTD, as part of memorandum of understanding.
According to health experts, Schistosomiasis is a chronic tropical disease which is transmitted from parasitic worms. It is common in tropical and sub tropical regions where poor populations have no access to clean water and sanitation installations. It has been established that people become infected with the disease by worm lavae mainly in fresh water by swimming, fishing and washing clothes.
A press release issued by WHO reveals that Schistosomiasis is second most prevalent and devastating disease in tropical countries after malaria. It is estimated that more than 240 million people are infected and that around 200.000 die of it every year in the world.