How China Beat Malaria

After four consecutive years of recording zero local cases, China is officially malaria-free—thanks to an innovative rapid reporting and response model.

AsianScientist (Jul. 12, 2021) – After a drawn-out battle lasting seven decades, China has now officially stamped out all traces of malaria on its shores as of June 30, 2021.

Its malaria-free status is a historic achievement for the Asia Pacific region, where over two and a half billion people remain at risk of infection. Around the world, malaria continues to claim nearly half a million lives each year, caused by Plasmodium parasites that spread via the bite of highly mobile mosquitoes called Anopheles.

With China’s success, surveillance has become the first line of defense in eliminating—not just controlling—the malaria threat. While the country pursued a combination of strategies over the last 70 years, a rapid reporting and response model known as the 1-3-7 norm proved the gamechanger in getting rid of malaria entirely.

Grappling with a health crisis

In 1940s China, the malaria epidemic was spiraling out of control. With 30 million infected and 300,000 lives lost yearly, aggressive interventions were needed—and fast.

Through Project 523, a nationwide research program for malaria treatment, Chinese scientists crucially discovered artemisinin, one of the most potent antimalarial drugs still used to date. Besides killing the parasites, authorities also made headway in interrupting transmission by targeting the mosquito vectors.

“China was one of the first countries to extensively test the use of insecticide-treated nets for preventing malaria, well before nets were recommended by WHO for malaria control,” said Professor Zhou Xiaonong, Director of the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

By the end of 1990, these strategies slashed annual infection rates by 99 percent and deaths by 95 percent from the disastrous numbers five decades earlier. While malaria had finally been wrestled under control, complete elimination remained elusive for another twenty years.

Erinne Ong reports on basic scientific discoveries and impact-oriented applications, ranging from biomedicine to artificial intelligence. She graduated with a degree in Biology from De La Salle University, Philippines.

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