Following a 70-year effort, China has been awarded a malaria-free certification from WHO—a notable feat for a country that reported 30 million cases of the disease annually in the 1940s.
According to the global health organization, every 2 minutes, a child dies of malaria, but now China has joined the growing number of countries that are proving that a malaria-free future is a viable goal.
“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,” said Dr Takeshi Kasai, Regional Director, WHO Western Pacific Regional Office.
Globally, 40 countries and territories have been granted a malaria-free certification from WHO, including Australia, Singapore, El Salvador, Algeria, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uzbekistan.
Beginning in the 1950s, health authorities in China worked to locate and stop the spread of malaria by providing preventive medicines, reducing mosquito breeding grounds, and stepping up the use of insecticide spraying in homes in at-risk areas.
In 1967, the Chinese Government launched the “523 Project”—a nationwide research program aimed at finding new malaria treatments that involved more than 500 scientists from 60 institutions. It led to the discovery in the 1970s of artemisinin—the core compound of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), the most effective antimalarial drugs available today.
In the 1980s, China was one of the first countries in the world to extensively test the use of insecticide-treated nets. By 1988, more than 2.4 million nets had been distributed nationwide, which led to such a drastic reduction in the disease that by the end of 1990, the number of deaths was reduced by 95%.
In 2020, after reporting 4 consecutive years of zero indigenous cases, China applied for an official WHO certification of malaria elimination. 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 program to prevent re-establishment of the disease.
Effective multi-sector collaboration was also key to success. In 2010, 13 ministries in China—including those representing health, education, finance, research and science, development, public security, the army, police, commerce, industry and information technology, customs, media and tourism—joined forces to end malaria nationwide.