The agreement provides multi-drug therapy (MDT), donated by Novartis AG and made available by the World Health Organization (WHO), to all leprosy endemic countries and is worth between $14.5 and $24.5 million over the next five years depending on the number of cases detected. The first phase of the programme from 2000 to 2005 was worth US$ 40 million, The lower amount of drugs supplied under the new agreement is due, said WHO, to the impressive progress being made in the struggle to eliminate the potentially devastating but easily curable disease through the success of MDT and the integration of leprosy treatment into general health systems. “The excellent news is that millions of people have been cured of leprosy and saved from a life of disability and stigma through the use of this simple, effective treatment,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook. “This success story demonstrates once again the value of integrating leprosy services into the public health system, and making MDT treatment truly available to everyone. WHO will work closely with all member states to sustain this process of integration, and maintain the crucial political commitment required, in the face of a rapidly disappearing disease.”More than 14 million patients have been cured of leprosy since 1985, WHO said. As of the beginning of 2005, the number of cases of leprosy worldwide was 286,000, a drop of 38 per cent from the beginning of 2004. The number of new cases detected during 2004 was also substantially lower (down 21 per cent) than in the previous year, providing further evidence that the backlog of previously undetected cases has finally been reached and treated.Much of the credit for the progress rests with committed governments, and the staff of international and national programmes, said Dr. Daniel Vasella, Chairman and CEO of Novartis. “The progress made to date in this partnership is evidence of the benefits of this public-private partnership, and gives us motivation in our fight against other endemic diseases in the developing world.” In a WHO statement release today, Mr Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of the Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Leprosy, called for renewed cooperation between all concerned stakeholders.“The elimination of leprosy as a public health problem is a milestone along the way to fundamentally eradicating both the disease and the social stigma that for so long has accompanied it,” he said.Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by a bacterium, Mycobacterium leprae. It is not highly infectious but can cause severe and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes if untreated. Treatment is simple, effective and free in all countries. It remains a public health problem in nine countries: six in Africa (Angola, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique, and the United Republic of Tanzania); two in South-East Asia (India, Nepal), and one in the Americas (Brazil).