Leprosy is curable with a combination of drugs known as multidrug therapy (MDT), as the treatment of leprosy with only one antileprosy drug (monotherapy) will result in development of drug resistance to that drug. The combination of drugs used in the MDT depends on the classification of the disease. Rifampicin, the most important antileprosy medicine, is included in the treatment of both types of leprosy. For the treatment of patients with multibacillary leprosy, WHO recommends a combination of rifampicin, clofazimine and dapsone; for patients with paucibacillary leprosy, MDT uses a combination of rifampicin and dapsone.
Access to treatment
Multidrug therapy (MDT), first recommended by a WHO Expert Committee in 1984, rapidly became the standard treatment of leprosy and has been supplied by WHO free of charge to all endemic countries since 1995.
As a major supplier of very close to 100% of global MDT needs, WHO works closely with donors and manufacturers to plan the manufacture, procurement and shipment of the MDT drugs having the maximum available shelf life, at the time most appropriate for each national programme. WHO also arranges independent laboratory testing of the drugs at the manufacturer's own expense in order to ensure that the finished WHO product is the best available for national programmes. Such testing is considered essential to maintain the confidence of national programmes in the donated product.
In order to meet emergency requests for MDT, WHO maintains at the donor's expense, substantial buffer stocks at the manufacturing plant. Currently these buffer stocks are equivalent to around 40% of global annual requirements but vary depending on perceived need. To ensure a rapid response to requests for smaller emergency supplies, WHO maintains additional buffer stocks at its headquarters in Geneva and Regional Office in Manila. Response times from WHO Geneva are typically 48 hours and most despatches are made via courier.