The Task Force Joins Global Effort to Eliminate One of Humanity’s Oldest and Most Stigmatizing Diseases
The Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy focuses on increasing coordination and answering critical research questions
The Task Force for Global Health has been chosen as the secretariat or hub for a new partnership to eliminate leprosy, a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that burdens more than an estimated 200,000 people each year.
The Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy will bring together multiple global organizations to develop a coordinated approach to eliminate the disease. Leprosy or Hansen’s disease is a bacterial infection that, if left untreated, can cause disfigurement and nerve damage. Most persons affected by leprosy live in India, Brazil, or Indonesia. The United States sees around 100 new diagnoses of leprosy each year.
One of the oldest diseases known to humanity, leprosy has historically been hard to diagnose. If the infection is caught early, antibiotic treatment can cure the infection and prevent severe deformities. Symptoms, however, can take many years to show.
Previous efforts to eliminate the disease have focused on providing treatment for the infection and addressing the physical disabilities. Despite these efforts, the number of new cases has remained constant for the past decade, indicating that progress toward interrupting transmission has stalled.
David Addiss, MD, MPH, Task Force for Global Health senior advisor to the secretariat, said one focus of the new partnership will be to improve scientific understanding of the disease. “New treatment strategies have injected a renewed sense of optimism in the leprosy community. We now see how to finally make a dent in transmission,” he said.
Pilot studies in eight countries are testing an elimination strategy that focuses on treating people who come in contact with an infected person with a single dose of medication. Initial findings show the risk of developing leprosy has been halved with this approach. Other efforts are focused on developing a vaccine to treat leprosy, and a blood test to diagnose the disease.
As secretariat for the Zero Leprosy partnership, The Task Force will support the development of an operational research agenda and increased coordination among partners working to eliminate the disease. It also will support a governance body, help national programs deploy new treatment strategies and diagnostic tools, and build a platform for effective advocacy and fundraising.
Addiss explained that The Task Force’s experience and credibility in coalition building was a major factor in its selection as secretariat. “Our ability to collaborate and deliver results positioned us well to take on the role of supporting the leprosy partnership,” he said. “Our job is to provide a framework that all members can get behind and to support the many partners who are doing the work.”
Addiss added that The Task Force’s track record and scientific expertise with other NTDs should prove valuable for the coalition as it seeks to end leprosy.
Tanya Wood, chief executive officer of ILEP, a federation of non-governmental organizations working on leprosy, said The Task Force’s collaborative expertise will be helpful to the new partnership. “The Task Force is well-respected internationally and their experts bring a wealth of experience in understanding how essential collaboration is to bringing an end to diseases,” she said.
Novartis Foundation head Ann Aerts, MD, MPH said The Task Force hosting the secretariat for the leprosy partnership provided an opportunity for exchange and learning. “We are keen to draw from The Task Force’s expertise and experience working on some of the most neglected tropical diseases to finally achieve a world without leprosy.”
The Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy brings together organizations including the Novartis Foundation, ILEP, the International Association for Integration, Dignity and Economic Advancement (IDEA) as well as national leprosy programs and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The secretariat, hosted at The Task Force’s new headquarters in Decatur, GA, is led by global public health expert Courtenay Dusenbury, MPH.