In the global push to eliminate leprosy The Task Force’s role is evolving. For the past five years, The Task Force has housed The Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy (GPZL), a secretariat created to align and accelerate global efforts to end one of humanity’s oldest known diseases.
During this time, GPZL has grown to include more than 100 organizations, 600 individual members and national partnerships in 12 countries, all working to advance a country-led vision and roadmap for achieving their goals. GPZL leadership recently announced plans to focus their efforts on existing and emerging technologies that have breakthrough potential to interrupt transmission of the disease. With this shift, The Task Force will no longer serve as the GPZL secretariat but will contribute to leprosy work through other programs such as the Neglected Tropical Disease Support Center (NTD-SC), in addition to continued coordination with GPZL.
“GPZL’s biggest accomplishment has been the successful and ongoing convening of all the major stakeholders in the leprosy world towards a common purpose,” says Geoff Warne, CEO of the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP) and part of GPZL’s leadership team. “The consensus research agenda and country model were each the fruit of collaboration of over 100 researchers and practitioners.”
GPZL Director Bill Gallo agrees that one of the partnership’s signature achievements has been its ability to unite partners for collaborative actions. He cites the building and implementation of the Zero Leprosy Country Model in Nepal, Morocco, Ghana, Côte D’Ivoire, Uganda, Tanzania, Cambodia, Mozambique and Nigeria as achievements that could only come through a GPZL-like partnership.
“Unlike with many other diseases, leprosy has a robust community of longstanding non-governmental organizations,” says Gallo. “Helping a country build a national partnership and implement a successful Zero Leprosy road map and action plan requires bringing together government and non-government stakeholders for a comprehensive review and planning process.”
The GPZL initiative includes a diverse set of global partners, including the Sasakawa Health Foundation, The International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Organizations, Novartis, The World Health Organization, National Ministries of Health, and organizations representing persons who have experienced leprosy.
GPZL program manager Andie Tucker says partners value The Task Force for its scientific and technical skill, its global reach and its neutrality. As a trusted outside expert, Task Force was able to foster difficult-but-necessary conversations to help venerable organizations unite around common goals.
“We were able to get people who were sometimes doing duplicative work to work together,” says Tucker. “We were able to make sure that resources were being used more efficiently.”
Gallo and Tucker cite Uganda and Côte D’Ivoire as exemplars of the GPZL productivity. When local partners in Uganda coalesced around a Zero Leprosy Country Model, the subsequent media attention helped the country’s national leprosy program manager advocate for more resources within her ministry.
“They added leprosy screening to an existing tuberculosis screening program and were quickly able to diagnose twice as many leprosy cases,” says Tucker. “That’s a big deal. When you catch it early you can prevent disability.”
In Côte d’Ivoire, partners worked with the prime minister’s office to lead an international fundraising effort for leprosy that resulted in a commitment of more than 10 million euros in new funding. One GPZL member organization, the Fondation Raoul Follereau, played a key leadership role and enlisted the personal participation of the prime minister.
“Two wonderful things about the effort in Côte d’Ivoire are that almost half of the funding commitment came from the national government,” says Gallo. “And our GPZL partners were able to make sure the funding supported work that integrated leprosy into an overall skin neglected tropical disease (NTD) plan. That’s fantastic because we wanted to prove that this model can be used for integrated disease planning.”
Gallo and Tucker are bullish on the prospects for ending leprosy, as the global leprosy community has aligned on the WHO vision of “zero leprosy” – a world with no disease, no disability, and no discrimination or stigma due to leprosy.
“The GPZL partners want to pivot to preventing leprosy transmission and that could be a good direction,” Tucker says. “There’s a recent prophylactic drug that’s a potential game changer if the partners can coalesce around rolling that out widely. There are models that show transmission could be driven down significantly within 30 years. For a disease as ancient as leprosy, that would be a massive achievement.”
“The partnership’s shift in focus fits well with WHO’s current efforts to help countries certify the elimination of leprosy,” Gallo says. “I’m hopeful that as GPZL partners shift their focus to transmission, each will understand the critical role they all must play in reaching elimination goals. It will require government, non-government, persons affected, and private sector partners all working together. If there’s one lesson from GPZL, it’s that working together delivers results that working separately does not.”
The Task Force’s commitment to a world with zero leprosy continues, with several of our programs working in this area. For example, NTD-SC will continue to support operational research on disability prevention that includes a focus on leprosy; the Focus Area for Compassion and Ethics is involved in a project on stigma-informed compassion training for healthcare providers of people with leprosy in India; and our Health Campaign Effectiveness Coalition works with countries to promote integrated campaigns for neglected tropical diseases like leprosy.