The Global Partnership aims to accelerate progress toward a world without leprosy by coordinating action in three key areas:
Accelerating research in new diagnostic and therapeutic tools, interventions, and strategies to interrupt transmission
Mobilizing technical assistance and expertise to strengthen existing national programs
Increasing advocacy and fundraising
“For over three decades, Novartis and the Novartis Foundation have remained dedicated to leprosy elimination", says Vas Narasimhan, designated CEO of Novartis and Member of the Novartis Foundation Board of Trustees. “The common vision is zero leprosy. Therefore, we need to accelerate progress in the fight against this ancient disease by aligning the leprosy community behind a common goal to halt the further spread of leprosy."
7 million patients treated with MDT since 2000
The introduction of multidrug therapy (MDT) in 1981 has helped lead to a 99% reduction in the global burden of leprosy. MDT has been donated for free by Novartis since 2000, reaching almost 7 million patients to date. The donation is part of the Novartis commitment to the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases.i However, for the last decade, more than 200,000 people have been newly diagnosed with the disease every year – including thousands of children.ii
This period of stagnation is partly the result of dwindling attention from health services and a decrease in political will, funding and the absence of new tools to fight the disease. It demonstrates the urgent need to join forces in the global health community and unify our efforts to interrupt further spread of the disease. This was the driving force behind the Novartis Foundation’s decision to convene representatives of the anti-leprosy community in February 2017 and start driving the establishment of a Global Partnership to interrupt transmission and achieve zero new leprosy cases.
“More effective ways to trace and reduce the spread of infections mean we are finally able to reconsider the way we approach leprosy,” said Dr Ann Aerts, Head of the Novartis Foundation. “The Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy will enable us to better coordinate resources and research efforts, giving me hope that we will finally achieve a world without leprosy."
Exploring innovative solutions to interrupt leprosy transmission
The Novartis Foundation’s involvement in the Partnership builds on three decades of experience and a long-standing commitment to exploring innovative ways to interrupt the transmission of leprosy: a strategy recently set-out in two papers published in the Lancet Infectious Diseasesiii.
As part of this commitment, the Novartis Foundation has pioneered research in leprosy diagnostics, and new approaches to screening for the disease, also using digital technology:
The Leprosy Alert and Response Network System (LEARNS) (PDF 1.9 MB) Together with the Philippines Department of Health and that of Science and Technology, the Novartis Foundation has implemented LEARNS - the Philippines’ first mobile phone-based leprosy detection system. It allows frontline healthcare providers to send images of suspect leprosy lesions and symptoms to a specialist via SMS or through an app. This has been shown to reduce delays in diagnosis and treatment. LEARNS now covers 14 provinces in 5 regions, and further nationwide scale-up by the DOH is in progress.
The Novartis Foundation works with partners in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Myanmar, Tanzania and Sri Lanka on LPEP. This initiative aims to demonstrate that contact tracing and the provision of preventative treatment to asymptomatic contact persons is feasible and can effectively reduce leprosy incidence and ultimately interrupt its transmission. Having demonstrated its feasibility in this multi country program, the LPEP strategy of contact tracing has now been included in the revised World Health Organization (WHO) Global Leprosy Elimination Strategy for 2016–2020.iv
The Novartis Foundation is also working with research partners to develop a leprosy molecular diagnostic test. The hope is that such a test can diagnose leprosy before significant nerve damage occurs and start treatment before the disease is further transmitted.
The Novartis Foundation continues all these efforts as part of its strategy to halt the spread of leprosy, in conjunction with the activities of the Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy. Key learnings will be used to accelerate progress toward leprosy elimination and shared with the global community in the hope of supporting efforts to tackle other neglected tropical diseases.