By Zhang Penghui
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday officially granted China a malaria-free certification. The UN health body called it a notable feat for a country that reported 30 million cases of the disease annually in the 1940s.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus congratulated China in a press communique. He said China’s success was hard-earned and came only after decades of targeted and sustained action.
“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,” said Takeshi Kasai, Regional Director, WHO Western Pacific Regional Office.
The WHO grants the certification of malaria elimination to a country or a region when it has reported no indigenous malaria transmission for three consecutive years, established an effective and rapid detection and monitoring system for the disease, and set up a plan for malaria prevention and control.
China has seen no locally transmitted cases of malaria for four consecutive years since 2017, and officially applied to the WHO for the certification of malaria elimination last year.
In the press communique, the WHO detailed China’s practice and experience of eliminating malaria. Chinese scientists discovered and extracted artemisinin in Chinese herbal medicine, and the core compound of artemisinin-based combination therapies is the most effective antimalarial drugs available today. This discovery earned Chinese scientist Tu Youyou the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. China is also one of the first countries in the world to extensively test the use of insecticide-treated nets for the prevention of malaria.
Besides, China has established a national infectious disease reporting system and a laboratory testing network for malaria, and improved the monitoring systems of malaria vectors and drug resistance of plasmodium.
The country further reduced its malaria caseload through a strict adherence to the timelines of the “1-3-7” strategy and the “3+1 defense line” at border areas. The “1” signifies the one-day deadline for health facilities to report a malaria diagnosis; by the end of day 3, health authorities are required to confirm a case and determine the risk of spread; and, within 7 days, appropriate measures must be taken to prevent further spread of the disease. The “1-3-7” model has been promoted worldwide and officially incorporated into the WHO’s technical document.
Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme spoke highly of China’s achievements and experience in eliminating malaria. He said 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. The Chinese government and its people were always searching for new and innovative ways to accelerate the pace of progress towards elimination, he added.
According to data released by the WHO, there were 229 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2019 and 409,000 deaths.