In the lead-up to World Leprosy Day on January 30, 2012, the Department of Health (DOH) in cooperation with the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development (NFSD) will hold the 1st Leprosy Stakeholders Symposium on January 25, 2012 in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. The groundbreaking symposium will gather all major stakeholders and partners from government and civil society organizations with the goal of eliminating leprosy in areas of the Philippines where the disease is still endemic.
“We are pleased to work with the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development in organizing this important symposium. Although the country has made significant progress in controlling leprosy, we want to further strengthen the national leprosy control program by consolidating the efforts of all concerned stakeholders,” said DOH Secretary Enrique T. Ona.
“It is our privilege to partner with the DOH and other local stakeholders in achieving our shared goal of a leprosy-free Philippines. Through this symposium, we hope to establish leprosy-free zones in the country by 2015,” said NFSD President and Managing Director Klaus M. Leisinger.
“We fully support efforts to establish leprosy-free zones in the country, and will ensure that Filipinos suffering from the disease are provided with effective anti-leprosy medications free of charge,” said Novartis Healthcare Philippines Country President and Managing Director Thomas Weigold.
The DOH and NFSD chose Palawan as the symposium venue to highlight one of the country’s most remarkable success stories in leprosy control. Once designated as a leprosy colony, Culion Island in Palawan has no reported new cases of leprosy—a shining testament of how multidrug therapy (MDT), compassion and the resiliency of the Filipino spirit can triumph over the disease and the stigma associated with it.
Caused by bacteria closely related to the causative organism of tuberculosis, leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that affects the skin and nerves. Untreated, leprosy damages the nerves causing numbness and lack of feeling in the limbs, which often result in festering wounds on the hands and feet, and then to the characteristic deformities of the face and limbs. In many communities, such deformities lead to stigma towards people affected by leprosy and their families, causing them to be shunned and even excluded from everyday life, according to the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP).
The 5-year statistical trend compiled by the DOH show that the country’s leprosy prevalence rate (less than 1 per 10,000 population) was reduced from 3,156 in 2005 to 2,873 in 2010. New cases detected (benchmark 5%) went down from 2,216 in 2005 to 2,041 in 2010; children below 15 years of age among new cases (benchmark 3%) decreased from 7.8% in 2005 to 4.6% in 2010. However, new cases with Grade 2 deformities (benchmark 5%) increased from 2.07% in 2005 to 4.2% in 2010.
Novartis and NFSD have a long-term commitment to leprosy treatment and control. Since 2000 Novartis, through the World Health Organization (WHO), has donated more than 48 million MDT blister packs, the treatment recommended by the WHO, helping to cure over 5 million leprosy patients worldwide. The value of the donation (2000-2011) is estimated at USD 77 million. Active in the fight against leprosy for more than 25 years, NFSD has been instrumental in supporting the leprosy drug donation, contributing to reducing the stigma attached to the disease and helping patients reintegrate into society. Since 2000, NFSD has supplied more than 47,000 MDT courses to the Philippines, accounting for over 60 percent of WHO’s total MDT supply to the country since 1995.
Recommended by WHO since 1981, MDT has revolutionized the treatment of leprosy. It consists of 3 drugs: dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine. MDT 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. Two of the three drugs used in MDT were developed in the research laboratories of Novartis.
Major stakeholders that will participate in the symposium are WHO, WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific, Stop TB and Leprosy Elimination, Culion Foundation, Inc., Philippine Leprosy Mission, and the Philippine Dermatological Society. Leprosy control partners invited to the symposium include the Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Interior and Local Government, National Council on Disability Affairs, local government units, Commission on Human Rights, various patients organizations, Rotary Club of Manila Midtown, Sorok Uni Foundation, Leonard Wood Memorial Center for Leprosy Research, Integrated Midwives Association of the Philippines, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses Association of the Philippines, and Nurses Vox Health Services Cooperative.