Following the World Health Organization’s recommendation to treat leprosy with multidrug therapy (MDT) in the 1980s, the number of registered cases worldwide fell dramatically, and optimism rose that leprosy could be eliminated. In 1991, the World Health Assembly set a goal to eliminate leprosy as a public health problem by the year 2000, and defined elimination as less than 1 case per 10,000 population. The Nippon Foundation (TNF) accelerated progress toward this goal by donating US$50 million over five years to enable WHO to purchase MDT drugs and make treatment free for leprosy patients. By 2019, although endemic hotspots remained, most countries had reached the goal at the national level.
Now that “elimination as a public health problem” has been achieved by most countries, attention is shifting to elimination of transmission. The Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy, of which Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF) is a founding member, is contributing to this shift. The Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative sees coordination of efforts in the direction of zero as being essential to achieving a leprosy-free world.
Following the intentions set by the founding members of SHF, the Initiative supports science-based, government-managed public health approaches to the disease.
Financial and advisory support
- TNF provides nearly all of the financial resources for the WHO’s Global Leprosy Programme.
- SHF convenes an advisory board consisting of a group of external experts to review best usage of TNF grants annually provided to the WHO. Starting from FY 2020, the process has been streamlined so that TNF funds the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative based within SHF, and SHF makes the annual grant to the WHO.
- SHF pledged US$500,000 annually for two years (FY 2020, 2021) as grant funding for projects run through the Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy (GPZL).
Awareness raising and advocacy
- The WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination (GWA) meets personally with government leaders to draw their attention to the current situation in their countries and to encourage them to make commitments to further progress toward a world without leprosy.
- The GWA seeks media coverage in all countries visited in order to raise awareness of leprosy and spread accurate knowledge about the disease.
- SHF provides planning and administrative support to the GWA in order to increase the efficacy of his visits.