Leprosy elimination

New Memorandum of Understanding for MDT

WHO and Novartis extend agreement to provide free medicines to millions of leprosy patients

LEP MoU 2010

Geneva, 11 October 2010: WHO and the pharmaceutical company Novartis today signed a new Memorandum of Understanding aimed at extending the provision of multidrug therapy free of charge to all leprosy patients worldwide until the end of 2015.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, and Mr Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis, signed the agreement, which will allow Novartis to continue to provide the multidrug therapy (a combination of rifampicin, dapsone and clofazimine) free of charge to all countries where the disease is endemic. The donation, which is valued at about US$ 26 million, will treat an estimated 1.1 million leprosy patients over the next five years (2010–2015). Novartis will also provide up to US$ 2.5 million over the same period to cover costs incurred by WHO for handling the donation and logistics.

“Collaboration between WHO and Novartis has been highly productive in eliminating leprosy as a public health problem,” said Dr Chan. “ A key feature of this success has been the deep commitment of both parties,” she added.

Continued and uninterrupted access for all patients to high-quality multidrug therapy free of charge remains a critical element in efforts to eliminate leprosy. There is an urgent need to maintain momentum and intensify efforts to bridge the gap between patients and their treatment, especially in areas with limited health services.

“Over the past 10 years, we have worked with WHO to provide free treatment to leprosy patients globally. We have made tremendous progress, but the battle has not yet been completely won,” said Mr Jimenez. “We are committed to ensuring that patients receive the medications they need, and we intend to contribute to this programme until the final elimination of this debilitating disease is achieved.”

The strategy to eliminate leprosy aims at reducing the burden of disease by detecting cases at an early stage of the infection and administering prompt treatment with MDT. Multidrug therapy – the standard treatment for leprosy recommended by WHO – is safe and highly effective in interrupting transmission of the disease. Diagnosis and treatment are provided through general health services in endemic countries, alongside other diseases. This has not only improved patients’ access to treatment but has also reduced the stigma surrounding leprosy, as it is no longer treated as a special disease requiring specialized staff.