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Novartis continues fight to help end leprosy

January 30, 2012

Novartis announced today that it will extend its collaboration with the World Health Organization and others to end leprosy.

Novartis will continue to provide free multidrug therapy medicines expected to treat an estimated 850,000 people through the year 2020. The donation is valued at about USD 22 million, and Novartis will provide up to USD 2.5 million to cover the WHO's costs for handling the logistics and distribution.

"Since 2000, we have worked with the WHO to provide free treatment to leprosy patients globally, but we know that no single actor - no matter how committed to patients - can eliminate this debilitating disease alone," said Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis. "We are proud to work with governments, international agencies, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to ensure that patients receive the treatment they need. Only with effective and coordinated action by all parties involved can we achieve our common goal of making leprosy history."

Finding patients and providing comprehensive leprosy care

This announcement extends a commitment that began in 1986. That year, the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development began a comprehensive program to combat leprosy. The program is designed to reduce the stigma attached to leprosy, prevent disabilities, and help people reintegrate into society after being cured.

Novartis donates the multidrug therapy for all people living with leprosy. The company has donated more than 48 million treatments, worth approximately USD 77 million. This has helped cure more than 5 million people worldwide.

Joseph Jimenez, Novartis CEO, together with Bill Gates and other global health leaders, pledges coordinated action to combat neglected tropical diseases. Novartis extends its commitment to help achieve final elimination of leprosy. Download the infographic to learn about neglected tropical diseases
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Thanks to the multidrug therapy and the commitment of multiple international stakeholders, more than 14 million people have been cured of leprosy over the past 20 years, reducing the global disease burden by 95%. According to the WHO, fewer than 230,000 new cases were reported in 2010.

Despite this success, control of leprosy is at a critical juncture today. Because the disease is no longer as prevalent, the level of international attention and political commitment has declined. Because of lower numbers of leprosy cases, knowledge about diagnosis and treatment is decreasing in many countries, meaning patients with the disease remain untreated. Novartis is joining with other public and private stakeholders to end leprosy in areas where it is still endemic.

The foundation develops innovative approaches to enhance leprosy services, particularly early detection. In Tanzania, the foundation is working to improve the delivery of leprosy and tuberculosis drugs at health facilities, based on the Novartis-led 'SMS for Life' technology that uses text messaging to keep pharmacies from running out of medicine. In Cambodia, testing is underway to find active cases by tracking former patients.

While early detection is crucial, many former leprosy patients suffer from disabilities that continue to cause social stigmatization. The Novartis Comprehensive Leprosy Care Association in India, supported by the foundation, aims to prevent disabilities through early detection of leprosy and helps former patients with deformities reintegrate into society through disability care, including surgeries, grip aids and physiotherapy. The project passes knowledge on to local health workers, thereby reaching between 800 and 1,000 people with leprosy annually.

Working with stakeholders in the Philippines

The foundation is helping to bring together multiple stakeholders in a final push against leprosy. On January 25, the foundation joined the Department of Health of the Philippines to hold the first Leprosy Stakeholders Symposium in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. The groundbreaking symposium gathered all major stakeholders and partners from both government and private sectors with the goal of eliminating leprosy in areas of the Philippines where the disease is endemic.

A comprehensive strategy

The fight against leprosy is just part of the larger Novartis commitment to combat diseases that are most common in developing countries. Novartis works to discover vaccines and medicines for neglected diseases through two research institutes: Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases in Singapore and the Novartis Vaccines Institute for Global Health in Italy. The Novartis Malaria Initiative is one of the healthcare industry's largest access-to-medicine programs. Since 2001, Novartis has worked with a range of organizations to ensure effective delivery of our anti-malarial medicine, providing more than 480 million treatments without profit.

In 2011, Novartis access-to-medicine programs reached more than 89 million patients, and together with our research institutes for diseases of the developing world, are valued at USD 1.7 billion, or 3% of net sales.