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.

Fortifying the defense

Through widespread adoption of the 1-3-7 norm and real-time tracking of cases, local communities in China were able to quickly spring into action to curb ongoing and potential outbreaks.

Since transmission varied across the country, identifying high-risk areas allowed authorities to tailor their efforts to aid the most vulnerable groups.

“The southern border areas needed more interventions due to more migration of people between China and neighboring countries,” Zhou explained.

Malaria incidence took especially long to peter out in Yunnan province, as it bordered three malaria-endemic countries—Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. To beat back this threat, China reinforced the area with 68 malaria posts, where trained experts rapidly examine clinical samples, and launched cross-border assistance programs.

Paying attention to such hotspots has spelled the difference between control and elimination. From recording three cases in 2016, China finally achieved the big zero in 2017 onwards.

Besides going four consecutive years without local cases, China’s malaria-free certification came after ensuring that monitoring protocols were in place to prevent resurgence of cases in the area.

“It reflects the crucial role of cross-sector collaboration; targeted interventions for rural, high-risk and border areas; and having the right infrastructure in place,” said Dr. Sarthak Das, CEO of the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA).

Maintaining momentum
China’s innovative 1-3-7 strategy has already taken off elsewhere, geared towards achieving the APLMA target of eliminating malaria in the region by 2030. In Cambodia’s Sampov Loun district, for example, adopting a simplified 1-3-7 model led to a significant drop in malaria cases, from over 500 in 2015 to 180 just two years later.

While the Asia Pacific region has nearly halved malaria cases in the last decade, progress has been uneven, with 90 percent of the disease burden concentrated in just a few countries.

For Das, the answer lies in cross-border partnerships and sustainable surveillance networks to keep infections from spiking again.

“The experience with 1-3-7 has empowered countries in Asia to adapt their own system of surveillance suitable for their national contexts,” he added.

Beyond the region, achieving a malaria-free world will similarly rely on high-quality surveillance data to support better decision-making. It may take another decade or so, but context-specific strategies such as those innovated by China could gradually fulfill the ambitious vision of global malaria eradication once and for all.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Illustration: Shelly Liew/Asian Scientist Magazine.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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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