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WHO declares China malaria-free — after 70 years of battling disease

WHO declares China malaria-free — after 70 years of battling disease
July 01
22:39 2021

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared China malaria-free — after 70 years of trying to eliminate the disease.

According to WHO, from 30 million malaria cases in the 1940s, China brought down the number to zero in the last four years.

“Today we congratulate the people of China on ridding the country of malaria,’’ Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said.

“Their successes were hard-earned and came only after decades of targeted and sustained action.

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“China joins the growing number of countries that are showing the world that a malaria-free future is a viable goal.”

According to WHO, 40 countries and territories have been granted a malaria-free certification including, most recently, El Salvador (2021), Algeria (2019), Argentina (2019), Paraguay (2018) and Uzbekistan (2018).

China’s efforts against malaria started in the 1950s as the disease was rampant in the southern part of the country, close to other hotspots in mainland south-east Asia.

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Over the last two decades, China reportedly ramped up its efforts and reduced the number of cases in the 1990s from 117,000 to 5,000 annually by providing staff training, laboratory equipment, antimalarial medicines and new methods to control mosquito propagation.

The country’s health authorities are also said to have worked to locate and stop the spread of malaria by providing preventive antimalarial medicines for people at risk of the disease as well as treatment for those who had fallen ill.

The country also reportedly made a major effort to reduce mosquito breeding grounds, and stepped up the use of insecticide spraying in homes in some areas.

In 1967, the Chinese government launched the “523 Project” – a nationwide research programme aimed at finding new treatments for malaria.

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This led to the discovery of artemisinin, which is one of the most effective antimalarial drugs, in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, China was one of the first countries in the world to extensively test the use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) for the prevention of malaria.

In 2020, after reporting four consecutive years of zero indigenous cases, China applied for an official WHO certification of malaria elimination.

Subsequently, members of the Independent Malaria Elimination Certification Panel travelled to China in May 2021 to verify the country’s malaria-free status, as well as its programme to prevent the re-establishment of the disease.

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Commenting on the development, Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, commended China for the effort.

“Over many decades, China’s ability to think outside the box served the country well in its own response to malaria, and also had a significant ripple effect globally,” he said.

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“The government and its people were always searching for new and innovative ways to accelerate the pace of progress towards elimination.”

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