China has eradicated malaria, after 70 years of fighting the disease that killed more than 400,000 people in 2019, mostly in Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Wednesday (Tuesday 29th in Brazil) ).
“We congratulate the Chinese people for ridding the country of malaria,” declared the organization’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “China joins the growing number of countries showing that a malaria-free world is a viable goal. This success, achieved with so much effort, is the result of decades of focused and continuous action”, he added.
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The country, with 30 million cases a year in the 1940s, has not registered any endogenous cases in the last four years. This parasitic disease is transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito.
Countries that have been without local transmission for three consecutive years can apply for WHO certification to validate their malaria-free nation status. They need to present very rigorous evidence and demonstrate their ability to prevent the disease in the future.
China is the 40th territory to obtain this validation from the WHO, which is based in Geneva. The latest were El Salvador (2021), Algeria, Argentina (2019), Paraguay and Uzbekistan (2018).
China is the first country in the Western Pacific region, according to WHO nomenclature, to receive this certificate in more than thirty years. At present, only three others have succeeded: Australia (1981), Singapore (1982) and Brunei (1987).
In its 2020 global report on malaria, published in November, the organization found that progress in combating the disease is stagnant, especially in African countries, where the worst balances of infections and deaths are registered.
– Mainly children –
After a steady decline since 2000, when the disease caused 736,000 deaths, the number of deaths rose to 411,000 in 2018 and 409,000 in 2019. More than 90% of them occurred in Africa and affected mainly children (265,000). In 2019, there were 229 million cases of malaria, a level that has not changed for four years.
Beijing began in the 1950s to identify the places where the disease was spreading and to fight it with preventive treatments, according to the WHO. The country also eliminated areas with ideal conditions for mosquitoes to breed and promoted the use of insecticides in homes.
In 1967, China launched a scientific program to find new treatments, which led to the discovery, in the 1970s, of artemisinin, the main medicine against the disease, extracted from a plant.
In the 1980s, China was one of the first countries to experiment with insecticide-treated bed nets. According to a balance sheet, in 1988 it had distributed more than 2.4 million throughout the territory.
The number of cases dropped to 117,000 before the end of the 1990s, and deaths were reduced by 95%. Additional efforts in 2003 reduced to about 5,000 cases a year over 10 years.
“China’s creative capacity has led the country to success in the fight against malaria and has had an important ripple effect worldwide,” said Pedro Alonso, director of the global program against malaria at WHO.
After four years without autochthonous cases, Beijing applied for certification in 2020. Experts traveled to that country in May to verify the absence of cases and ensure there is a device to prevent them from reappearing. The risk of imported cases, however, remains a concern, especially those from Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
A prototype vaccine was 77% effective in tests carried out in Africa, Oxford University announced in April. It could be approved in two years.
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