Novartis continues fight to end leprosy
Novartis and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced October 11 that they will extend their collaboration to end leprosy.
Novartis will continue to provide free multidrug therapy (MDT) medicines. The donation to the WHO, valued at about USD 26 million, will treat an estimated 1.1 million leprosy patients during the five-year commitment. In addition, Novartis will provide up to USD 2.5 million to cover costs incurred by the WHO for handling the donation and logistics.
“Over the past 10 years, we have worked with the WHO to provide free treatment to leprosy patients globally. We have made tremendous progress, but the battle has not yet been completely won,” said Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis. “We are committed to ensuring that patients receive the medications they need and we intend to contribute to this program until the final elimination of this debilitating disease.”
During the past 20 years, more than 14 million people have been cured of leprosy, shrinking the disease burden by 95 percent. Today, global prevalence is estimated at fewer than 250,000 cases – a great public health success.
Novartis has donated treatment through the WHO since 2000, and close to 100% of the global supply of MDT is provided through this collaboration. This donation, equivalent to USD 60 million, has helped cure approximately 5 million patients. The Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development (NFSD) has played a major role in both reducing the stigma of leprosy and helping patients reintegrate into society.
Despite these successes, leprosy control is at a critical juncture today. The disease has limited spread and the level of international attention and political commitment is declining. Because of lower numbers of leprosy cases, knowledge about diagnosis and treatment is decreasing in many countries, meaning patients with the disease remain untreated.
Providing comprehensive leprosy care in India
Novartis collaborates with governments and nonprofits to deliver comprehensive care for leprosy patients. Leprosy is considered eliminated on a country level in India but, due to its size, remains the country with the highest number of new cases annually. Since 1989, the NFSD has worked through the nonprofit Novartis Comprehensive Leprosy Care Association (NCLCA) to provide services and care to thousands of leprosy patients in India.
Social marketing campaigns fight ignorance and stigma around leprosy, and encourage patients with the disease to seek treatment. Patients who come forward are treated with MDT, and clinics help patients integrate back into society. The NCLCA continues to work with patients to rehabilitate them once their disease has been cured, providing:
- Health education
- Splints and aids to help correct disabilities
- Reconstructive surgery
- Means to make a living and reintegrate into society
A traveling clinic in Brazil
Brazil is one of the few countries worldwide that hasn’t yet achieved the WHO’s leprosy elimination target. With an estimated 37 000 new cases of leprosy reported annually, “the challenge is to further increase diagnosis so that patients with leprosy can receive treatment,” said Alexander Triebnigg, Head of the Novartis Country Organization in Brazil.
In partnership with Morhan, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to the elimination of leprosy and the promotion of leprosy patients’ rights, Novartis finances a mobile leprosy clinic and laboratory that travels to regions where the disease is still prevalent, particularly poor areas in northern Brazil. Doctors and nurses will be provided by local branches of Brazil’s Unified Health System under an agreement reached with the National Association of Municipal Health Secretariats and local governments hosting the mobile clinic.
“We announce and promote the arrival of the mobile leprosy unit in small and medium cities, as well as remote towns,” Mr. Triebnigg added. “The aim is to increase awareness so that people across all age groups with possible symptoms can see a doctor and, if diagnosed, receive immediate treatment.”