Leprosy Drug Donation

Partnership objectives

  1. Contribute to a world free of leprosy through donation of leprosy multidrug therapy (MDT) treatments by Novartis since 2000.
  2. Explore innovative  interventions to bring the world closer to the eventual goal of leprosy elimination.

Novartis has been donating MDT to all leprosy patients worldwide since 2000, reaching over 6 million patients. Novartis has been donating MDT to all leprosy patients worldwide since 2000, reaching over 6 million patients. Copyright Novartis Foundation

What are the health needs and challenges?

Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, bacteria that multiply very slowly. Once infected, the average incubation period is two to three years, although it can take between 6 months and 40 years for symptoms to appear. Leprosy is not highly infectious and although its transmission is not fully understood, close and frequent contact with an infectious patient accelerates transmission. Leprosy mainly affects the skin and nerves. If untreated, there may be progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. 

Description of partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

Since 2000 Novartis has been providing MDT free of charge to all leprosy patients through the WHO, donating more than 56 million MDT blister packs valued at over USD 90 million, helping to treat over 6 million leprosy patients worldwide. In 2015, as part of its commitment to the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), Novartis announced the extension of this MDT donation through to 2020. This five-year agreement includes treatments worth more than USD 40 million and up to USD 2.5 million to support the WHO in handling the donation and logistics. Overall it is expected that the program will reach an estimated 1.3 million patients during the next five years.

Since 1981, more than 16 million people have been treated for leprosy thanks to MDT, the treatment recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), reducing the global burden by 99% - a public health success story. However in recent years, leprosy elimination efforts have become a victim of their own success: with fewer patients detected, funding and political commitment as well as knowledge of the disease has also declined. The case detection rate for leprosy has plateaued at about 200,000–250,000 over the past 10 years, and the disease remains endemic in many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America; even countries with low overall endemicity may have localized high-burden pockets. Approximately 10% newly diagnosed leprosy patients are children, indicating continued transmission of the disease. As a result, the challenge is now how to interrupt transmission of leprosy.

Summary of impact and forward looking information

The availability of a global supply of high-quality MDT, free of charge, has helped bring leprosy services closer to affected communities, through general health services rather than specialized clinics. 

The Novartis Foundation has been active in the fight against leprosy for over 25 years. Besides implementing a new strategy toward zero transmission of leprosy, the foundation also facilitates the Novartis MDT donation and convenes leprosy and disease elimination experts and stakeholders at key events, striving to bring new momentum in the last mile in leprosy elimination. 

The Novartis Foundation now focuses on exploring innovative interventions to bring the world closer to the eventual goals of leprosy elimination. The Novartis Foundation also supports:

  • International leprosy post-exposure prophylaxis (LPEP) program with Erasmus University Medical Center, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and several International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP) members: Netherlands Leprosy Relief, FAIRMED, American Leprosy Missions and the German Leprosy and TB Relief Association, working together with national leprosy control programs to interrupt leprosy transmission by reducing the risk of the development of leprosy among contacts of newly detected patients. LPEP has been launched in India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Brazil.
  • Leprosy Alert and Response Network System (LEARNS), the Philippines’ first mobile phone-based leprosy detection system, allowing frontline healthcare providers to send images of suspect leprosy lesions and symptoms via SMS to a specialist.
  • Development of a diagnostic test together with the Swiss École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to begin the assay development and preclinical validation of the leprosy molecular diagnostic test, and with Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) in Brazil to begin work on innovative sampling procedures to aid leprosy detection.



Why should leprosy be in the spotlight?

Ann Aerts on leprosy and the Novartis Foundation's strategy to eliminate the disease

Partnership information

Company(ies) Novartis

Partner(s) World Health Organization (WHO)

Type of Partner(s) IGOs

Therapeutic Focus Neglected Tropical Diseases

Disease(s) Leprosy

Program Type(s) Availability of Treatment - Product Donations

Targeted Population(s) Children, Elderly, General population, Marginalised / Indigenous People, Men, Patients in needs of treatment, People with low income, Women

Region(s) East Asia & Pacific, Europe & Central Asia, Latin America & Caribbean, Middle East & North Africa, North America, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa

Number of Countries 143

Country(ies) Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, The Gambia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, West Bank and Gaza, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Start Date 2000

More information Novartis Foundation

Anticipated completion date 2020