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At a ceremony at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis, and Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to continue their collaboration toward a world free of leprosy.
Under the terms of the MoU, Novartis continues to provide free multidrug therapy (MDT) medicines to all countries worldwide. The donation to the WHO, valued at about USD 26 million, will treat an estimated 1.1 million leprosy patients over the next five years, through 2015. In addition, Novartis will provide up to USD 2.5 million over the same period to cover costs incurred by the WHO for handling the donation and logistics.
“Over the past 10 years, we have worked with the WHO to provide free treatment to leprosy patients globally. We have made tremendous progress, but the battle has not yet been completely won,” said Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis. “We are committed to ensuring that patients receive the medications they need and we intend to contribute to this program until the final elimination of this debilitating disease.”
Novartis and the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development (NFSD) have a long-term commitment to leprosy treatment and control. Since 2000, Novartis has donated more than 45 million MDT blister packs, the treatment recommended by the WHO, helping to cure approximately 5 million leprosy patients worldwide. The Novartis Foundation, active in the fight against leprosy for more than 25 years, has been instrumental in supporting the leprosy drug donation, contributing to reducing the stigma attached to the disease and helping patients reintegrate into society.
“The collaboration between Novartis and the WHO has been highly productive in eliminating leprosy as a public health problem. A key feature of this success has been the deep commitment of both parties,” said Dr Margaret Chan at the signing ceremony.
Since 1985, more than 14 million people have been cured of leprosy thanks to MDT, shrinking the worldwide prevalence by approximately 95%. In 2009, less than 250 000 new cases were reported, from more than 140 countries worldwide. Despite these successes, leprosy control remains at a critical juncture and knowledge of the disease is becoming less common. Moving forward, early detection and continued availability of free treatment are essential.
The development of MDT changed the face of leprosy dramatically. MDT consists of three drugs (rifampicin, clofazimine and dapsone), two of which (rifampicin and clofazimine) were developed in the research laboratories of Novartis in the 1980s. Multidrug therapy has made it possible to cure patients, interrupt the transmission of leprosy and prevent disabilities. Even patients with the severest form of the disease show visible clinical improvement within weeks of starting treatment.
The new MoU (effective from January 2011 through to December 2015) follows two MoUs signed in 2000 and 2005 for the free provision of MDT drugs for patients globally.