ANNOUNCEMENT: Tribute to Dr. S.K. Noordeen (1933–2021)

The Leprosy Bulletin is saddened to announce the passing of Dr. S.K. Noordeen, a global leader in the fight against leprosy and a cherished friend. We are grateful to Dr. Derek Lobo for writing this tribute.

Dr. Noordeen at a board of directors meeting for Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation (S-ILF) in 2015.

In the passing away of Dr. Noordeen, the cause of leprosy has suffered a blow. Personally, I was blessed to have worked under his able leadership from 1993 until the time of his retirement from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1998. I continued to benefit from his guidance and friendship afterward as well.   

For many years, starting from when he was assigned to WHO’s headquarters in Switzerland in 1979, Dr. Noordeen was the main architect of WHO’s strategies for leprosy elimination. He worked closely with Sasakawa Health Foundation’s medical director, Dr. Yo Yuasa, to develop multidrug therapy (MDT) into an accessible, practical treatment that could be implemented worldwide. Of his many achievements, here I will highlight three:    

  1. He persuaded National Programmes to integrate leprosy services into General Health Services. In spite of some resistance, he boldly persisted. In India, MDT was made available in 163,000 health facilities under the Health Department.
  2. He was the brain behind the 1991 World Health Assembly Resolution that aimed at Elimination of Leprosy as a Public Health Problem (reducing prevalence at the national level to less than one case per 10,000 population by the year 2000). This numerical target resulted in an increase of political commitment and funding for leprosy work, along with vigorous MDT implementation. By 2000, 114 of 122 endemic countries had achieved the goal. Several more countries, including India, achieved the goal by 2005.
  3. Realizing that the main problem affecting MDT implementation was drug supply, he approached The Nippon Foundation (TNF) and its chairman, Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, for support. An arrangement was made for TNF to sponsor free MDT through WHO for all endemic countries 1995-1999. This unprecedented collaboration became a model for provision of global “drug security” for communicable diseases. WHO later used it for filariasis and tuberculosis, and in 2000, the pharmaceutical company Novartis took over the sponsorship role for MDT.

Post retirement, Dr. Noordeen served as the chairman of the Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation from the time of its founding in 2006 until 2016 and the president of the International Leprosy Association.

The best tribute we can pay Dr. Noordeen is by working towards a “World Without Leprosy,” one of his unfulfilled dreams!

Dr. Derek Lobo
Dr. Lobo has dedicated his life to eliminating leprosy and other poverty-related diseases. For six years, 2001-2007, he worked for the WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia (SEARO) as the Regional Adviser for Leprosy, Filariasis, Soil Transmitted Helminths and Yaws. He is a trustee of the Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation (S-ILF) and continues to work as a public health consultant.