Novartis marks 20-year commitment in the fight against leprosy
Global prevalence is down 95 percent, but the battle is not over as partners commemorate 20 years of fighting leprosy in India.
In the past 20 years, more than 14 million people have been cured of leprosy, shrinking the worldwide burden to fewer than 250,000 cases – a great public health success. But the fight to eradicate this disabling and stigmatizing disease continues.
To eliminate leprosy
Novartis collaborates with governments and nonprofits to deliver comprehensive leprosy care. Multidrug therapy cures the infection, and clinics help patients integrate back into society through disability care, surgeries, grip aids and psychotherapy. Social marketing fights ignorance and stigma.
The Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development (NFSD) is commemorating the 20th anniversary of its leprosy project in India. Since 1989 the nonprofit Novartis Comprehensive Leprosy Care Association (NCLCA) has provided services and care to thousands of leprosy patients in India. In collaboration with government and non-governmental agencies, the nonprofit aims to reintegrate the patients into society.
Two decades ago leprosy afflicted 10 to 12 million patients and was a public health threat in 122 countries. Now the disease is classified as “eliminated,” with fewer than one case per 10,000 inhabitants, in all but three countries – Brazil, East Timor and Nepal. Yet pockets of leprosy persist. India, due to its size, remains the country with the highest number of new cases.
Leprosy is curable. Comprehensive care as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) includes multidrug therapy (MDT), as well as disability care, prevention and rehabilitation of patients.
Novartis, the only supplier of multidrug therapy, has donated the drug free of charge to leprosy patients worldwide since 2000 through the auspices of the WHO. This donation has helped cure more than 4.5 million patients by 2009 and is worth approximately USD 60 million.
“Leprosy is on the brink of elimination, but the battle has not been completely won,” says Klaus Leisinger, president and CEO of the NFSD. “The 95-percent reduction of leprosy is a true success story of collaboration between public health groups and the private sector. We intend to see this campaign through to eradication of the disease.”
Even as leprosy has declined, knowledge of the disease also is becoming less common. To promote early detection and effective treatment, especially in developing countries, the Novartis Foundation published the eighth edition of the book Leprosy – for medical practitioners and paramedical workers in September 2009.
Novartis and its partners are pursuing the goal of a world free of leprosy.