Today, the END Fund is pleased to announce a new opportunity to fast-track progress against intestinal worms among school children and other at-risk groups in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda. This announcement follows Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to donate 50 million doses of VERMOX® Chewable (mebendazole 500mg) to the World Health Organization (WHO) for at-risk populations, including children and women of reproductive age. Through its Deworming Innovation Fund (DIF) – an unprecedented initiative that accelerates progress towards eliminating disease caused by parasitic worms – the END Fund will leverage this drug donation to mobilize additional philanthropic capital and coordinate with governments and partners to create robust delivery systems.
The additional funding from DIF will result in a greater investment in the future of millions of children and adults. Funds saved on drug purchasing will be repurposed to support treatment delivery or other complementary interventions pending planning with national programs. This will result in more sustainable on-the-ground efforts to improve the quality of life for millions of people and will lead to improvements in the overall health and well-being of communities.
An estimated 1.5 billion people globally, predominantly in resource-limited settings, are infected with soil-transmitted helminths (STH), or intestinal worms, and require periodic treatment to prevent or control infection. The effects of intestinal worms on infected populations include malnutrition, anemia, stunting, impaired intellectual development, and susceptibility to other infectious diseases.
“Johnson & Johnson’s donation will improve the lives of millions and fast-track progress towards the elimination of disease caused by parasites that have held back human progress for millennia,” said Ellen Agler, CEO of the END Fund. “The Deworming Innovation Fund offers a unique platform for visionary donors to come together and support the ambitious goals of our government partners, and we are thrilled that Johnson & Johnson is building on its incredible track record to help demonstrate that it is possible to end these diseases in our lifetimes, on our watch.”
Since the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in 2012, there have been significant commitments for drug donations to increase treatments for NTDs. As part of its long-standing commitment to tackle NTDs, Johnson & Johnson has delivered more than 1.7 billion doses of VERMOX® since 2006. Notably, the introduction of VERMOX® Chewable, a new formulation of mebendazole, allows for easier administration to children, as it can be easily chewed or mixed with a small amount of water to form a soft mass that is swallowed by children as young as one year of age.
“Intestinal worms prevent too many around the world from reaching their full potential – with the debilitating symptoms forcing children to stay home from school and adults from work,” said Martin Fitchet, M.D., Global Head, Global Public Health, Johnson & Johnson. “At Johnson & Johnson, we believe that all people, no matter where they live, should have the opportunity to thrive – and that’s why we are committed to doing our part to ensure that treatment for intestinal worms reaches those in need.”
Intestinal worms are one of many NTDs – a group of debilitating diseases that affect more than 1.7 billion people worldwide, with 40% of the burden in Africa alone. In line with interim guidance from the WHO, key parts of NTD programs – such as community and school mass drug administrations, training for health care workers, and community-based surveys – were all temporarily halted in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Missing treatment cycles put the NTD community at significant risk of wiping away gains that took years to achieve. In July, 2020, the WHO released guidelines for how organizations could safely restart their programs while minimizing risk to health workers and community members. Following the WHO’s recent launch of an ambitious roadmap to end NTDs by 2030, it is more important now than ever to continue investing in this area to drive greater impact and reduce the burden caused by intestinal worms.