China has successfully eliminated malaria following a 70-year battle against the mosquito-borne disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Wednesday.
The disease, which infected 30 million people annually in the 1940s, has not been reported in the country for the past four consecutive years, allowing China to apply for malaria-free certification. The WHO requires countries to have no indigenous instances of malaria for three years to apply for such certification.
“Their success was hard-earned and came only after decades of targeted and sustained action,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement. “With this announcement, China joins the growing number of countries that are showing the world that a malaria-free future is a viable goal.”
Since the 1950s, China’s health authorities have been committed to locating and preventing the spread of malaria by providing preventive antimalarial drugs and treatment for those deemed at risk. By the end of 1990, the number of malaria cases in China had plummeted to 117,000, with a 95% reduction in deaths, according to the WHO.
In the past decades, China has aggressively pushed for measures to stop the spread of malaria. As part of a government initiative, a group of Chinese scientists discovered artemisinin in the 1970s, which is the core compound of artemisinin-based combination therapy and still the most effective antimalarial treatment today.
Chinese scientist Tu Youyou, along with fellow scientists, discovered artemisinin and was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for her findings “concerning a novel therapy against malaria.”
With Wednesday’s announcement, China has become the first country in the Western Pacific Region to receive malaria-free certification by the WHO in over 30 years, following Australia, Singapore, and Brunei in the 1980s.
Globally, 40 countries and territories have been certified malaria-free by the WHO. However, there were still an estimated 229 million malaria cases worldwide in 2019, with over 90% of cases and deaths occurring in Africa.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Public health professionals use nets to trap mosquitos at a village in Chuzhou, Anhui province, Aug. 16, 2017. People Visual)