The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday officially granted China a malaria-free certification marking the country’s successful elimination of the disease after a 70-year battle, Xinhua is reporting.
From 30 million malaria cases per year in the 1940s, China brought down that number over the last few decades, to finally achieve no cases in the last four years, WHO said.
“Today we congratulate the people of China on ridding the country of malaria,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Their success was hard-earned and came only after decades of targeted and sustained action.”
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 Southeast Asia.
The “523 Project”, a research program launched in 1967, enabled Chinese Nobel Prize winner Tu Youyou to discover artemisinin, one of the most effective antimalarial drugs in use nowadays, according to WHO.
Over the last two decades, China has ramped up its efforts and reduced the number of cases in the 1990s from 117,000 to fewer than 5,000 annually by providing staff training, laboratory equipment, antimalarial medicines and new methods to control mosquito propagation.
Mosquito-breeding areas have been systematically reduced, and insect repellents and treated protective nets have become standard.
The “1-3-7” strategy – one day to report a case, three days to confirm it and seven days to prevent further spread of the disease – was also a tool of success and is still used nowadays for travellers coming from malaria-infected countries.
No cases were reported in China in the last four years, warranting the malaria-free credential by WHO.
“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,” said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme.
To be declared free of the mosquito-borne disease, countries can apply for WHO certification after three years of no indigenous cases. This is followed by presenting evidence, and demonstrating the capacity to prevent an outbreak.
China applied for WHO certification in 2020, after four consecutive years of zero indigenous cases. Experts travelled to the country in May this year to verify the malaria-free status, as well as the country’s preparedness to prevent future outbreaks.
China has become the 40th country to be declared malaria-free.
Other countries to gain the status recently are El Salvador, Algeria, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uzbekistan.