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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 17:26 GMT


Drive to eradicate leprosy

Leprosy can cause severe disability

A major new drive to rid the world of leprosy has been announced by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO is to create a global alliance with the aim of virtually eliminating the disease from every country in the world by the end of 2005.

The campaign will attempt to detect and cure as many of the estimated 2.5 to 2.8 million people world-wide who suffer from the disease.

BBC's Claire Doole in Geneva: The centuries old scourge
More than 10 million people have been cured in the past 15 years and the disease has been eliminated from 98 countries.

The WHO believes it should be possible to reduce the prevalence of the disease to less than one case per 10,000 people in every country.

In the worst affected countries the rate is currently four-and-a-half times that figure.

The WHO will join forces with countries with a high incidence of leprosy, as well as Swiss pharmaceuticals group Novartis AG, the Nippon Foundation and the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP).

The alliance will also cooperate with non-governmental organisations, including the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and the World Bank.

Millions made available

[ image: Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland has made leprosy a top priority]
Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland has made leprosy a top priority
The ILEP, a grouping of 19 non-government organisations, has pledged $19.5m of their $65m annual budget to the effort.

Novartis said it had promised about $30m to the alliance and will make additional resources available to help in the final push to eradicate the disease.

A spokesman for Novartis said the company would also provide support for field clinics.

Daniel Vasella, chairman of Novartis, said: "For centuries leprosy has plagued mankind, mutilating people who are then often discriminated against or even excluded by society.

"So much suffering results from this disease, but early treatment can prevent its disfiguring and crippling effects and achieve cure."

WHO Director-General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland said: "Let us join hands and make a final push to consign a dreaded disease to history."

Countries with the most afflicted are Angola, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal and Niger.

Leprosy has two common forms, tuberculoid and lepromatous.

Both forms produce lesions on the skin but the lepromatous form is most severe, producing large disfiguring nodules.

All forms of the disease eventually cause nerve damage in the extremities manifested by sensory loss in the skin and weakness of the muscles.

People with long-term leprosy often lose the use of their hands or feet.

Treatment of leprosy is through Multi-drug Therapy (MDT).

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