The advent of multidrug therapy (MDT) in the early eighties changed the face of leprosy dramatically. Recommended by the World-Health Organization, MDT cures patients, interrupts the transmission of leprosy and prevents disabilities. Novartis developed two of the three medicines in MDT and has provided MDT, free of charge, for all patients in the world through the WHO since 2000. This is a core element in the WHO Elimination Strategy of creating awareness of the early signs of leprosy, improving patients’ access to free diagnosis and treatment, and close monitoring.
Strong support from countries, the WHO and partners has led to the cure of over 14 million people, more than 4.3 million through the Novartis-WHO collaboration. The prevalence rate has dropped by over 90% since 1985, from 21 per 10,000 inhabitants to less than 1 per 10,000 inhabitants worldwide. All but 4 countries in the world have successfully eliminated leprosy at a national level. Detection of new leprosy cases has decreased by 20% per year over the past three years.
Novartis and the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development also provide funds to cover the costs of freight and insurance, as well as independent quality control in addition to that carried out by the Novartis group. The value of the first phase of the donation, 2000-2005, was USD 40 million. In 2005, Novartis and WHO signed a new MoU to ensure the continued uninterrupted supply of high quality MDT, free of charge for all patients in the world, until the end of 2010.
The Novartis Foundation has also been active in supporting national health ministries, the WHO and NGOs in field programs since the mid 1980s. It pioneered the use of social marketing in combating this disease. The underlying concepts of generating and meeting demand for leprosy treatment are now an integral part of the WHO leprosy elimination strategy.
The Foundation has also made a significant contribution to simplifying the provision of disability prevention services in communities. Many of the approaches devised in the Novartis Comprehensive Leprosy Care Association in India have now been incorporated in the disability care package of the government and of NGOs.