On May 30, 2017, together with the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a premier research institution in Brazil focused on public health, the Novartis Foundation is co-hosting an expert meeting entitled ‘Strategies to detect and interrupt the global transmission of leprosy’ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The meeting will bring together researchers, policy makers and public partners with a shared interest in determining strategies to detect leprosy and stop its global transmission. Presenters include experts on molecular diagnosis, clinical treatment, vaccine development and epidemiology from Brazil, Europe and the United States.
While many people think of leprosy as a disease of the past, it is in fact all too present for the 200,000 to 250,000 new patients diagnosed each year with this potentially disabling disease and represents a global health challenge today. Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, remains endemic in pockets of several Asian, African and Latin American countries, including in Brazil, where 26,000 new patients were detected in 2015.
Once diagnosed, leprosy can be treated with multidrug therapy (MDT), which is not only effective at treating the disease and preventing permanent disability but also helps reduce transmission. However, as up to 20 years can pass before patients become symptomatic. It is necessary to find ways to diagnose the disease earlier and interrupt its transmission entirely.
For over 30 years, the Novartis Foundation has been working with partners around the world to make leprosy history, including working with experts to develop complementary approaches to interrupting disease transmission. These include early diagnosis and prompt treatment for index patients, screening and post-exposure prophylaxis for people who have contact with newly diagnosed patients, development of new diagnostic tools and surveillance systems that trigger swift intervention. For example, the Novartis Foundation is working with research partners to develop a molecular diagnostic test that extracts and quantifies pathogen-specific DNA and RNA to detect leprosy before significant nerve damage has taken place and before it is unwittingly transmitted to others.
“Leprosy is an ancient, stubborn and debilitating disease,” says Ann Aerts, Head of the Novartis Foundation. “We realize that zero transmission is an ambitious goal. But we are also convinced that it is an achievable one and we remain committed to helping make it a reality. With this international, interdisciplinary meeting we look forward to learning from and exchanging with experts to catalyze innovative thinking and accelerate the development of scalable strategies for stopping leprosy in its tracks.”
Nisia Trindade Lima, President of Fiocruz, says: “This meeting is an opportunity for all those of us who envision a world without leprosy to meet and learn from one another at a particularly exciting stage of knowledge. In light of new diagnostic, clinical and surveillance techniques and insights from research on other neglected tropical diseases, we have never been closer to eliminating leprosy once and for all.”