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It’s official, China is definitely free from malaria, the WHO announced on Wednesday. The country, which had 30 million cases per year in the 1940s, has not reported a single indigenous case since 2017.
“We congratulate the Chinese people for ridding the country of malaria,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday (June 30). After 70 years of struggle, China has officially succeeded in eradicating this parasitic disease transmitted by a mosquito, also called malaria.
The country, which had 30 million cases per year in the 1940s, has not reported a single indigenous case in the past four years.
This hard-won success is the result of decades of focused and sustained action, “continued the WHO Director-General.” China is joining the growing number of countries showing that a future without malaria is possible. .
“The elimination of malaria is a tremendous achievement for the health sector in China,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, on Wednesday. “It is a major contribution of China to human health and the advancement of human rights in the world,” he said.
China is the 40th territory to obtain this validation from the WHO. The latest were El Salvador in 2021 as well as Algeria and Argentina in 2019. It is also the first country in the Western Pacific region to receive this certification in more than 30 years. Only three countries have benefited so far: Australia (1981), Singapore (1982) and Brunei (1987).
Anti-malaria campaign started in the 1950s
Beijing began in the 1950s to identify places where malaria was spreading and to fight it with preventive antimalarial treatments, the WHO noted. The country has also eliminated areas favorable to mosquito breeding and increased the use of insecticides in homes.
In 1967, China launched a scientific program to find new treatments that led to the discovery in the 1970s of artemisinin, the main disease drug extracted from a plant.
The number of cases dropped to 117,000 by the late 1990s and deaths were reduced by 95%. Additional efforts undertaken in 2003 made it possible to drop to around 5,000 contaminations per year within ten years.
Countries that have recorded three consecutive years without local transmission can apply for certification from the WHO to validate their status as a malaria-free nation.
They must accompany this request with very rigorous evidence and demonstrate their ability to prevent any further transmission.
After four years without local contamination, Beijing applied for certification in 2020. Experts went to the site in May to verify the absence of a local case and to ensure the device to avoid a re-emergence.
But the risk of imported cases remains a source of concern, especially from neighboring Laos, Burma and Vietnam who are struggling with the disease.
A disease that mainly affects Africa
This parasitic disease, which is transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito, killed more than 400,000 people in 2019, mainly in Africa.
In its 2020 World Malaria Report released in November, the WHO found that progress in the fight against the disease was stagnating. In 2019, there were 229 million cases of malaria, a level that has been maintained for four years.
After a steady decline since 2000, when the disease caused 736,000 deaths, the number of deaths was estimated at 409,000 in 2019. More than 90% of deaths occur in Africa and mainly concern young children (265,000 deaths) .
>> To see: A world without malaria by 2050?
A vaccine candidate has demonstrated an unprecedented 77% efficacy in trials in Africa, announced at the end of April the University of Oxford, its developer. This serum could be approved within two years.