Innovative tools and approaches to end the transmission of Mycobacterium leprae
Leprosy control has seen little innovation and only limited progress in the past decade. However, research on the disease has increased and important innovations are underway. Here, we comment on efforts to develop tools and approaches to detect leprosy and to stop the transmission of Mycobacterium leprae, the causative bacillus of the disease. The tracing and screening of contacts of known patients with leprosy promises to strengthen early diagnosis, while preventive chemotherapy will reduce the risk of contacts developing the disease by 50–60% within 2 years of administration. Until now, diagnosis has been mainly based on the presence of signs and symptoms, but efforts are underway to develop inexpensive, reliable, point-of-care tests to diagnose infection. Development of a leprosy-specific vaccine that boosts long-lasting T-cell responses is also a research objective. As for launching a programme to interrupt transmission, two interlinked tools—epidemiological modelling and the concept of an investment case—are being developed to explore the feasibility and costs of such a programme and its overall effect on individuals and society. We believe that sustained innovation is needed and that only a combination of tools and approaches holds promise to end M leprae transmission.