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Novartis sets sights on eliminating leprosy

Throws weight behind meeting WHO's 2020 eradication goal

NovartisNovartis has launched a new strategy to tackle leprosy, with the aim of completely eliminating the disease around the world.

The Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development (NFSD) is putting its weight behind recommendations - issued earlier this year by specialists in leprosy - that will try to meet the goal of the World Health Organisation to completely eliminate the disease by 2020.

The new strategy focuses on interrupting leprosy transmission through early diagnosis and treatment, contact tracing of former patients, diagnostic tools and strict surveillance and response, according to Novartis.

Multi-drug therapy (MDT) for leprosy has already had a dramatic impact on the incidence of the disease, shrinking the number of patients by 95 per cent to around 230,000 cases a year, with more than 15 million people cured of the disease since 1981. It has unfortunately proved very difficult to bring the number of new diagnoses any lower.

"Zero transmission of leprosy is achievable, but we need to be better equipped and use innovative approaches if we are to find and treat the last patients," said Ann Aerts, head of the Novartis Foundation, which is sponsoring a conference on leprosy elimination today.

Despite efforts to eliminate leprosy and other diseases such as polio, blinding trachoma, sleeping sickness and lymphatic filariasis, the only pathogen that mankind has been able to eradicate completely is smallpox. Driving out the final reservoirs of infection is a major obstacle as fewer patients are detected and knowledge of the disease declines.

"The key to eradicating smallpox was a comprehensive approach including the availability of an effective, heat-stable vaccine, epidemiological surveillance, thorough research, involvement of local communities as well as strong management and commitment by the respective governments," commented Professor Donald Henderson, former Head of the WHO's Smallpox Eradication Campaign. "Current elimination programmes can also draw on these lessons learned."

Novartis Foundation projects in leprosy to date include a delayed contract tracing programme to track former leprosy patients in Cambodia, a telehealth project in Brazil and a mobile health project in Tanzania that makes use of electronic mapping technology to track stock levels of leprosy, malaria and tuberculosis medications, which was recently expanded across Africa.

Last year, Novartis pledged to donate treatments for leprosy worth $22.5m up until 2020, as well as providing $2.5m in support to help the WHO handle donations and logistics.

29th November 2013

From: Healthcare

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