Novartis has announced that Rwanda signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and became the third country after Kenya and Ethiopia to launch the Novartis Access programme.

With this agreement, the Rwandan government will increase investment in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Initial Novartis Access product deliveries are expected to take place early next year.

Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez said: "Novartis is committed to bringing affordable drugs to people in lower-income countries, but affordability is just the tip of the iceberg.

"Addressing the underlying causes of poor health at the scale needed in these countries requires that governments and NGOs collaborate with companies to incorporate private-sector expertise and resources. This isn't just desirable, it's essential."

Launched in September last year, Novartis Access is a portfolio of 15 on-patent and off-patent medicines against key chronic diseases.

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"Programmes like Novartis Access can help change the way patients approach chronic diseases."

More than 100,000 monthly treatments have been delivered to Kenya, Ethiopia and Lebanon since then.

Capacity-building activities to screen and diagnose people for diabetes and hypertension have started in Kenya.

Discussions are taking place to launch the programme in more than ten countries across three continents.

Novartis has submitted 312 products to health authorities for regulatory approval in 19 countries for future roll-outs in other countries.

Mission for essential drugs and supplies customer services head Dr Jonathan Kiliko said: "Programmes like Novartis Access can help change the way patients approach chronic diseases.

"A virtuous circle of peer education starts when patients know that early diagnosis and treatment can help them live well for many years."

Novartis Access is a group-wide programme to help fight chronic diseases in lower-income countries and is integrated in Novartis Social Business, a unit that includes the Novartis Malaria Initiative and the Novartis Healthy Family programmes.