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10 Nov 2005
On November 7, 2005, Novartis and the World Health Organization (WHO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to extend the provision of free leprosy treatment for all patients in the world until the end of 2010. The first phase of the donation, 2000 to 2005, has led to the cure of about 4 million patients and was valued at US$ 40 million. The quantities of drugs to be supplied in this second phase will be substantially lower due to the dramatic reduction in the leprosy burden following the success of leprosy elimination efforts.
Elimination is defined as a prevalence rate of less than 1 case per 10,000 inhabitants. The strategy aims at reducing the leprosy burden by detecting all people suffering from the disease and then treating them with multidrug therapy (MDT), the WHO-recommended treatment. As MDT is highly effective, interrupts the transmission of the disease and is safe, leprosy diagnosis and treatment is now provided through the general health services, alongside other diseases. This has not only improved patients’ access to treatment but has also reduced the stigma surrounding leprosy as it is no longer treated as a special disease requiring specialized staff.
With improved coverage of leprosy services, the backlog of previously undetected cases in the community has also declined at a rate of 20% a year since 2001. In 2004, 407,000 new cases were detected compared to 740,000 in 1999. The number of registered patients dropped from 926,000 in 1995 to 286,000 cases by 2005. Today leprosy remains a public health problem in only 9 countries compared to 22 at the start of the Novartis MDT donation.
This new phase of the donation is valued at between $14.5 and $24.5 million depending on the number of cases detected over the next five years. Continued and uninterrupted access for all patients to high-quality MDT treatment, free of charge remains a critical element in the fight to eliminate leprosy. There is an urgent need to maintain the current momentum and intensify efforts to bridge the gap between patients and their treatment, especially in areas with limited health services. Novartis and its Foundation are committed to helping eliminate leprosy as a public health problem.