|Press Release WHO/70
15 November 1999
ELIMINATION OF LEPROSY IN SIGHT
GLOBAL ALLIANCE CREATED TO ACHIEVE COMPLETE ELIMINATION BY THE END OF 2005
AbidjanToday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the creation of a Global Alliance which will eliminate leprosy as a public health problem from every country. This partnership will be a powerful force in the work to complete the elimination of a disease from which humankind has suffered, physically and psychologically, for thousands of years.
In addition to WHO, core members of the Alliance are governments of leprosy endemic countries, the Nippon Foundation, the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP) and Novartis. The Alliance will co-operate closely with other non-governmental organizations, the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and the World Bank. The government of India has agreed to chair the Global Alliance during the year 2000.
"We are grateful for the strong support of our partners, both old and new, in the final years of the fight against leprosy. Let us join hands and make a final push to consign a dreaded disease to history," said WHO Director-General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland.
Dr Brundtland conveyed her message to the Third International Conference on the Elimination of Leprosy, held in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire from 15-17 November 1999.
The Global Alliance and its partners aim to detect and cure an estimated 2.5-2.8 million leprosy sufferers in the world by the end of 2005, thus achieving elimination of the disease defined as less than one case per 10,000 people. Today, the prevalence rate of leprosy is over 4.5 times the target level in the 12 most endemic countries, which have 90% of the global burden of cases. These countries are Angola, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal and Niger.
The Global Alliance will support these countries in finding remaining cases. Additionally, it will generate demand for treatment through improved awareness that highly effective multidrug therapy (MDT) is available for free. Better access to treatment, from diagnosis to the cure, will be provided.
At the Abidjan conference, health ministers and national programme managers from endemic countries welcomed the Global Alliance and committed themselves to vigorously implementing the intensified strategy. Endemic countries will establish national task forces to improve access to treatment services.
The Global Alliance will maximize the use of resources and will help in delivering better services to underserved communities, which are the most affected by the disease, said the representative of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Government of India. India is the most endemic country for leprosy in the world.
The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation announced their pledge to contribute US$ 24 million to WHO to assist in the implementation of the Global Alliance's strategy. These longstanding partners from Japan have played an instrumental role in leprosy elimination, providing essential support to WHO since 1975. Specifically, their contributions enabled WHO to provide free treatment to leprosy patients in some 80 countries from 1995-1999, as well as to support national programmes.
Novartis has pledged to donate medication worth approximately US$ 30 million over the next six years to cure all the leprosy patients throughout the world. Headquartered in Switzerland, the company played a key role in developing two of the three drugs used in multidrug therapy. Since 1986, the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development has been involved in implementing innovative strategies for leprosy elimination in field programmes.
"For centuries leprosy has plagued mankind. There is so much unnecessary suffering from a disease which could be cured. So we are most pleased to donate the high quality drugs needed to eliminate the disease, as the pharmaceutical industry partner in the Global Alliance," said Daniel Vasella, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Novartis.
On hearing about Novartis' contribution, Mr Yohei Sasakawa, President of the Nippon Foundation said, "That is wonderful news. Together with our traditional partners, WHO, ILEP and others, we can now look forward to a day when leprosy is no longer a scourge of mankind."
ILEP, a federation of 19 NGOs dedicated to the fight against leprosy, will make a significant contribution to the Global Alliance, particularly through its extensive and long-standing experience of leprosy project work in the field. Moreover, ILEP members are today pledging to the Global Alliance, for the year 2000, US$19.5 million of their US$ 65 million annual budget. ILEP funds the important work of social and economic rehabilitation of disabled leprosy patients.
"ILEP members believe that the Global Alliance is an essential part of our wider strategy for the fight against leprosy. We welcome the creation of the Alliance and we look forward to working closely with all the partners in a renewed spirit of collaboration," said Mr Terry Vasey, ILEP President.
For its part, WHO will continue to provide technical and strategic leadership in the leprosy elimination programme, and will intensify its work in guiding and monitoring field operations, while verifying the implementation of the Global Alliance's strategy.
Over the past 15 years, an estimated 10 million people have been cured of leprosy and the disease has been eliminated from 98 endemic countries. Now, with the Global Alliance, the final phase is underway.
For further information and the co-ordinates of the Global Alliance partners, please contact Melinda Henry, Office of Press and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Tel. (41 22) 791 25 99, Fax (41 22) 791 48 58, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org From 15-17 November 1999, Melinda Henry can be reached at Ivoire Inter-continental Abidjan; Tel. (225) 44 10 45, Fax. (225) 44 00 50; E-mail: email@example.com. All press releases, fact sheets and WHO information can be found on the Internet at the WHO home page: http://www.who.ch