Since 1981, more than 16 million leprosy patients have been cured of leprosy, shrinking the disease burden by 95%. Today, global prevalence is estimated at fewer than 250 000 cases – a great public health success.
Treating disease and caring for patients
Since 2000, Novartis has worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide free multidrug therapy (MDT) to leprosy patients globally. Close to 100% of the global supply of MDT is provided through this collaboration. The equivalent of USD 77 million, this donation has helped treat approximately 5 million patients.
The Novartis Foundation for decades has played a major role in both reducing the stigma of leprosy and helping patients reintegrate into society. The foundation launched social marketing campaigns in India to fight the stigma around leprosy by encouraging patients with the disease to seek treatment. Those who come forward are treated with MDT, and clinics help patients integrate back into society.
Despite the tremendous progress made, the fight has not yet been won. Leprosy control is at a critical juncture today. As the spread of this disease has declined, so has the level of international attention and political commitment, including knowledge about diagnosis and treatment in many countries. As a result, many patients with the disease remain untreated.
In January 2012, Novartis announced that the company will continue its work with the World Health Organization (WHO) and extend its drug donation of multidrug therapy (MDT) medicines to treat leprosy through the year 2020. This new five-year commitment includes treatments worth an estimated USD 22.5 million and up to USD 2.5 million to support the WHO in handling the donation and logistics, and is expected to reach an estimated 850,000 patients.
The extension of the Novartis leprosy commitment is a key part of a new, coordinated push by a diverse range of public and private collaborators to combat 10 neglected tropical diseases by 2020. Healthcare companies, governments, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank pledged to bring a unique focus to defeating these diseases and to work together to improve the lives of the billion people worldwide affected by NTDs.
Achieving leprosy elimination
To help go the last mile toward leprosy elimination, in 2013 the Novartis Foundation launched a new leprosy strategy, based on the consensus reached by a group of leading experts. The new strategy focuses on interrupting leprosy transmission through early diagnosis and prompt treatment, tracing and prophylactic treatment of contacts of newly diagnosed patients and diagnostic tools and strict surveillance and response. To implement this strategy, the Novartis Foundation is collaborating with Netherlands Leprosy Relief and national leprosy programs in pilot sites in Asia, Africa and Latin America to demonstrate that routine chemoprophylaxis is an effective and feasible way to reduce leprosy transmission. To further define activities under the new strategy, the foundation convened a series of meetings with leprosy and other disease experts.
The Novartis Foundation is also developing innovative approaches to enhance leprosy services. In Cambodia, the Novartis Foundation is working with the Cambodian National Leprosy Elimination Program and the CIOMAL Foundation to pilot a novel way of identifying new patients. The approach involves locating former leprosy patients several years after their initial diagnosis, testing relatives and neighbors and treating those with the disease.
Novartis is committed to ensuring that patients receive MDT, and we will continue working toward the final elimination of this debilitating disease.