Novartis, DOH vow to hasten progress in leprosy control
(The Philippine Star) - March 6, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Health (DOH) and research-based Swiss healthcare company Novartis have vowed to continue their partnership in order to speed up the country’s progress in leprosy control.

The DOH and Novartis declared their commitment to continue working together as the Philippines mark World Leprosy Day with the theme “Joining Forces – Accelerating Progress.”

Since 1985, more than 14 million leprosy patients have been cured of leprosy, shrinking the disease burden by 95 percent — a great public health success.

Based on the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of reaching a prevalence of less than one case per 10,000 population, leprosy has been eliminated as a public health problem from 119 countries out of 122 countries, including the Philippines.

“The Philippines has made significant progress in its fight against leprosy. While we have eliminated leprosy as a public health problem in 1998, there are areas in the country where new leprosy cases are still being identified. With the support of our partners such as Novartis, we will sustain the fight against leprosy in the post-elimination phase,” said Health Secretary Enrique Ona.

“We will continue our partnership with the DOH and other stakeholders to enhance the effective detection and treatment of leprosy cases in the Philippines. Let us all work together to build on our past successes and achieve the final elimination of this debilitating disease,” said Thomas Weigold, country president and managing director of Novartis Healthcare Philippines.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by the rod-shaped bacillus Mycobacterium leprae. It is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth over long-term close and frequent contacts with untreated cases.

Early signs of leprosy include pale or reddish skin patches that are painless and do not itch, with diminished sensation.  Untreated, leprosy can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, eyes, and limbs, causing paralysis and loss of sensation. 

Leprosy may also affect people due to the stigma it carries. Fear of leprosy may cause people to ostracize those afflicted, leading to loss of jobs and rejection from families and friends.

Early diagnosis and treatment with multi-drug therapy (MDT) have been the key elements in leprosy elimination. Recommended by the WHO since 1981, MDT consists of three drugs: dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine. Two of the three drugs used in MDT were developed by Novartis. MDT cures leprosy patients, interrupting transmission of the disease after the first dose of medication and preventing disabilities. There is no need to fear leprosy, as it is curable and people affected can lead normal lives.

Novartis and its corporate social responsibility arm, the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development (NFSD), have a long-term commitment to leprosy treatment and control.

For decades, the NFSD has played a major role in both reducing the stigma of leprosy and helping patients reintegrate into society. Since 2000 Novartis, through the WHO, has provided free of charge close to 100 percent of the global supply of MDT, helping cure approximately five million patients and has supplied more than 47,000 MDT courses to the Philippines.

In January 2012, Novartis announced that the company would continue its work with the WHO and extend its drug donation of MDT medicine through 2020, which is expected to reach an estimated 850,000 patients.

With the DOH, Novartis organized the groundbreaking first Leprosy Stakeholders Symposium on Jan. 25, 2012 in Palawan, securing the commitment of over 100 leprosy stakeholders to eliminate leprosy in the Philippines.

Novartis is working with the DOH in implementing a “Public-Private Partnership on Leprosy Post-Elimination Strategy” as an integral part of the National Leprosy Control Program (NLCP).

During last year’s World Leprosy Day, the DOH and Novartis Healthcare Philippines, in partnership with the NFSD, launched the “Best Practices and Innovative Ideas in Fighting Leprosy Contest” to help sustain the country’s fight against leprosy in the post-elimination phase.

There were a total of 35 contest entries — 19 for the Best Practices category and 16 for the Innovative Ideas category. A collaborative community-based campaign and a mobile phone-based referral system and diagnostic application were adjudged winners.

As part of the observance of World Leprosy Day 2014, the DOH, Philippine Center for Health Research and Development, Novartis Healthcare Philippines, NFSD and Metahelix have launched the Leprosy Alert and Response Network System (LEARNS), the country’s first mobile phone-based leprosy referral system.

ACCELERATING PROGRESS BEST PRACTICES BEST PRACTICES AND INNOVATIVE IDEAS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH DOH LEPROSY NOVARTIS NOVARTIS HEALTHCARE PHILIPPINES PHILIPPINES WORLD LEPROSY DAY
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