China offers innovative pathways for Africa in fighting malaria

Updated: April 26, 2023 Source: Xinhua News Agency
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File photo taken on July 24, 2021 shows a site of a mass drug administration (MDA) campaign launched by China's expert team at the outskirts of Sao Tome, capital of Sao Tome and Principe. (Xinhua)

BEIJING, April 25 (Xinhua) -- As China has made remarkable achievements in malaria elimination over the past decades, valuable experience from China provides innovative pathways for the countries and regions hard-hit by malaria in Africa.

For a long time, China has actively strengthened public health cooperation with African countries, where malaria shows striking prevalence, aiming to help African countries achieve their malaria control goals with technical support and sharing experiences.

The world malaria report, released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in November 2022, shows that there were 247 million new cases of malaria and 619,000 related deaths worldwide in 2021, with 95 percent of malaria cases and 96 percent of malaria deaths occurring in Africa. Malaria has been a main hindrance to the economic and social development of African countries.

Malaria was once rampant in China as well. After more than 70 years of unremitting efforts, China has managed to cut down the annual infections of malaria from about 30 million in the 1940s to zero in 2017, said Wang Duoquan, deputy director of the world health service center under the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In June 2021, the WHO officially declared China malaria-free, making it the 40th country in the world to have eliminated malaria. China has also continuously shared its experiences to combat malaria and advance the goal of a "malaria-free world".

In the 1970s, Chinese research teams conducted extensive experiments and discovered artemisinin. Nowadays, artemisinin-based combination therapy has become the standard treatment for malaria and has been widely used in malaria-endemic areas around the world in the past 20 years.

Also, China further summarized its "1-3-7" strategy in malaria control work, which was introduced to the world by the WHO. The "1" signifies the one-day deadline for health facilities to report a malaria diagnosis; by the end of day 3, health authorities are required to confirm a case and determine the risk of spreading; and within 7 days, appropriate measures must be taken to prevent further spreading of the disease.

Sponsored by the China-UK Global Health Support Programme (GHSP), the CDC Parasitic Disease Prevention and Control Institute and relevant agencies in Tanzania launched the China-Uk-Tanzania Pilot Project on Malaria Control, which marked China's first malaria control pilot project established on the African continent.

In 2019, to further verify and promote the achievements of the pilot project, China and Tanzania jointly implemented the China-Tanzania Cooperation on Malaria Control with international support such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project completed an external evaluation this March.

China is sharing its experience in malaria prevention and control with African countries and contributing to the fight against malaria on the continent. Chinese experts have been working with their African counterparts to develop and implement effective strategies for preventing and treating malaria. These efforts have led to a significant reduction in malaria prevalence rates in some African countries.

One example of the successful collaboration is the "1, 7-mRCTR" rapid screening and treatment strategy developed by Chinese experts. This strategy involves screening and treating all patients in a village within a day and targeting high-risk areas for treatment within a week.

This approach has led to a significant reduction in malaria prevalence rates from over 30 percent to less than 3 percent at the intervention sites in Tanzania and has been adopted by other African countries, such as Zambia, Burkina Faso, and Senegal.

China's approach to malaria prevention and control also emphasizes the importance of eliminating the source of infection and controlling the spread of the disease. This approach is based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, which prioritize addressing the root cause of an illness rather than just treating the symptoms.

Chinese researchers developed artemisinin-based combination drugs for treating malaria, which has proved highly effective.

Song Jianping, a researcher from the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, has carried out a malaria elimination project in the Comoros since 2007. The project team managed to stop malaria transmission by letting people take artemisinin-based combination drugs at the same time to eliminate the malaria parasite in the body.

By 2017, the Comoros had achieved zero malaria deaths and a 98 percent reduction in the number of malaria cases, transforming from a high to a low malaria prevalence zone in a short period of time.

Currently, the two malaria prevention and control centers aided by China in the Comoros are running well, and more than 4,000 local health and medical workers have been trained to master malaria prevention and control knowledge. The experience of the cooperation in malaria control between China and the Comoros has also been promoted in Sao Tome and Principe, Kenya, Togo, and Gambia.

China will continue to collaborate with other African countries and regions to implement sustainable and feasible projects that will help control and eliminate malaria in the future, according to the CDC Parasitic Disease Prevention and Control Institute. 

Editor: Jiang Feifan