12 May 2020 · Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy

GPZL’s COVID-19 Working Groups: May 2020 Update

The COVID-19 pandemic has strongly impacted leprosy control and prevention, and in response, GPZL has established three working groups to address the leprosy community’s key challenges during the global health crisis, and spearhead emergency response.
GPZL’s three COVID-19 response working groups are:

  • Chronicling and providing support for the urgent needs of National Leprosy Programmes, particularly for access to MDT and follow-up care.
  • Advocating for access to comprehensive healthcare, social protection services and humanitarian measures for persons affected by leprosy or Hansen’s Disease, and their families.
  • Preparing GPZL for the post-pandemic global health landscape.

Two of the three working groups began work in April, and the third will start mid-May.

Working Group 1: Leprosy Emergency Operations Committee, comprised by a group of experts from WHO/GLP, WHO/HQ, Novartis, ILEP, and National Leprosy Programme Managers (NLPMs), has worked to assess the current situation for National Leprosy Programmes and facilitate the resolution of operational challenges generated or aggravated by the current COVID-19 pandemic. This group’s work focuses specifically on addressing and resolving issues in supply of drugs for treatment of leprosy and leprosy reactions, and other forms of care such as wound care, disability care, and social care. In a short survey sent to NLPMs in all regions, managers were asked to provide an update on these services.

Working Group 1 received responses from 20 countries, including 17 African countries, and Brazil and Afghanistan. In 19 countries the pandemic has impacted National Leprosy Programme activities. In 13 of these countries, the programme was still operating, but all outreach activities were limited or completely stopped until further notice. In 3 countries, offices are closed and staff are working from home. In several countries leprosy programme staff has been partly or fully re-assigned to COVID-19 response. Supplies of drugs (MDT and drugs for treating reactions) were still available in 18 countries. Several countries reported delays in medication, but because of available stocks they were still able to treat patients. In 10 countries access to treatment is often hampered because of travel restrictions. In response, many countries have introduced provision of MDT for 2-3 months at the time. Patients with leprosy reactions are still treated in most of the countries (11) or are followed up with by phone (6), but ulcer care and disability care were limited and self-care groups are hardly meeting (16). A similar survey will soon be sent to NGOs and civil society organizations to learn about their experience. Based on the findings, the working group is planning to provide targeted response, by engaging experts in the specific fields to provide advice and guidance.

Additional information about the national programmes was received by WHO/GLS. WHO/GLS is reporting that countries in all regions (except Lesotho in AFRO) have been affected by COVID-19. All countries have adopted global guidelines and have changed the implementation of their programmes according to these guidelines and the instructions of their governments.

Working Group 2: Emergency Advocacy for Persons Affected, comprised of the U.N. Rapporteur for Persons Affected and their Families and leaders of persons affected organizations, has been hosting regional calls with persons affected organizations and individuals to gather perspectives on their needs and challenges during the COVID-19 health crisis. Working Group 2 has met with persons affected in South America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific regions, with additional meetings to come with Asia and the Pacific.

A comprehensive report on these meetings will be released, but some of the early findings are that persons affected in many places do not have access to basic necessities, like food, shelter, clean water, and soap. Transportation restrictions are preventing  access to medication and wound care, and many persons affected are feeling the mental health impacts of isolation from their families and communities. Access to needed social services, like emergency government benefits, is another key issue.

The findings of these regional calls will shape an official statement being drafted by Alice Cruz (U.N. Rapporteur for Persons Affected and their Families) for all permanent missions to the UN. This letter will share challenges faced by persons affected during this time, and barriers to assisting persons affected, such as funding constraints.

Working Group 3: Post COVID-19, is convening and will begin work on their mandate this month.

The work of these three groups is ongoing. Updates on the progress of these groups will be released in the newsletter and the Newsroom page of zeroleprosy.org. For more information about these work groups, or for questions about GPZL’s COVID-19 strategy, please contact us.