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C. Merck & River Blindness

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Merck and Co. and river blindness
MANUEL VELASQUEZ, Business Ethics. Concepts and cases 4th edt., Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1998
River blindness is an agonizing disease that affects some 18 million impoverished people living in remote villages along the banks of rivers in tropical regions of Africa and Latin America. The disease is caused by a tiny parasitic worm that is passed from person to person by the bite of the black fly which breeds in river waters. The tiny worms burrow under a person's skin where they grow as long as two feet curled up inside ugly round nodules half an inch to an inch in diameter. Inside the nodules the worms reproduce by releasing millions of microscopic offsprings called microfilaria that wriggle their way throughout the body moving beneath the skin, discoloring it as they migrate, and causing lesions and such intense itching that victims sometimes commit suicide. Eventually, the microfilaria invade the eyes and gradually blind the victim.
Spraying pesticides to eradicate the black fly faltered when it developed an immunity to the pesticides. Moreover, the only drugs available to treat the parasite in humans have been so expensive, have such severe side effects, and require such lenghty hospital stays that the treatments are impractical for the destitute victims who live in isolated villages.
In many countries people have fled the areas along the rivers, abandoning large tracts of rich fertile land. Many of them, however, eventually return because distant lands prove difficult to farm.Most villagers along the rivers come to accept the nodules, the torturous itching, and eventual blindness as an inescapable part of life.
In 1979, Dr. William Campbell, a research scientist working for Merck and Company, an American drug company, discovered evidence that one of the company's best-selling animal drugs,...

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