Following a 70-year effort, the World Health Organization on Tuesday certified that China is malaria-free, a notable feat for a country that reported 30 million cases of the disease annually in the 1940s.
“Today we congratulate the people of China on ridding the country of malaria,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, was quoted in an official statement issued by the world body as saying.
“Their success was hard-earned and came only after decades of targeted and sustained action. With this announcement, China joins the growing number of countries that are showing the world that a malaria-free future is a viable goal.”
China is the first country in the WHO Western Pacific Region to be awarded a malaria-free certification in more than three decades, according to the statement.
Other countries in the region that have achieved this status include Australia (1981), Singapore (1982) and Brunei Darussalam (1987).
Beginning in the 1950s, health authorities in China worked to locate and stop the spread of malaria by providing preventive anti-malarial medicines for people at risk of the disease as well as treatment for those who had fallen ill, the WHO statement said.
In 1967, the Chinese Government launched the “523 Project” – a nationwide research programme aimed at finding new treatments for malaria.
This effort, involving more than 500 scientists from 60 institutions, led to the discovery in the 1970s of artemisinin, the core compound of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), the most effective anti-malarial drugs available today.
By the end of 1990, the number of malaria cases in China had plummeted to 117 000, and deaths were reduced by 95 per cent.
Within 10 years since 2003, the number of cases had fallen to about 5,000 annually.
Takeshi Kasai, Regional Director, WHO Western Pacific Regional Office, said: “China’s tireless effort to achieve this important milestone demonstrates how strong political commitment and strengthening national health systems can result in eliminating a disease that once was a major public health problem.
“China’s achievement takes us one step closer towards the vision of a malaria-free Western Pacific Region.”
Globally, 40 countries and territories have been granted a malaria-free certification from the WHO, including, most recently, El Salvador (2021), Algeria (2019), Argentina (2019), Paraguay (2018) and Uzbekistan (2018).