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TCM doctors in China increase efforts to help cure malaria worldwide

Updated: Jun 1, 2022 China Daily Global Print
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Chinese experts talk with volunteers about methods of fighting malaria in Sao Tome, capital of Sao Tome and Principe, in January. XINHUA

More than 1,700 years ago, Ge Hong, known as the "ancestor of Lingnan medicine", left in his medical book the earliest record of using Artemisia annua-a kind of wormwood or mugwort-to help cure malaria.

Now doctors of traditional Chinese medicine in Lingnan-the region in southern China encompassing Guangdong province and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region-are redoubling their efforts to promote the use of artemisinin-a miracle medicine based on extracts from the plant-to treat the disease around the globe.

Xu Qingfeng, deputy director of the Health Commission of Guangdong province, said artemisinin was inspired by Lingnan, and TCM experts and practitioners from Guangdong have been proving its effectiveness ever since an artemisinin drug was first produced.

Xu, who also heads the provincial bureau of traditional Chinese medicine, said it was Guangdong where artemisinin was first used against malaria, and it has achieved remarkable results.

The province has launched six artemisinin research and treatment centers in Southeast Asia, Africa and the South Pacific since 2003.And it has sent more than 260 antimalaria experts abroad and helped to train more than 10,000 grassroots medical workers.

With the help of Chinese doctors and artemisinin, Cambodia is now listed by the World Health Organization as headed toward eliminating malaria.

In Comoros, the malaria incidence rate has dropped by more than 98 percent, with zero malaria deaths recorded recently, Xu said.

The pilot area of Sao Tome and Principe has achieved zero malaria cases for eight consecutive months for the first time, while the malaria infection rate among the 45,000 people in Kiriwina Islands, the pilot area of Papua New Guinea, has decreased by more than 95 percent, with zero malaria deaths.

Since the introduction of artemisinin, more than 20 million people in affected nations and regions around the world have directly benefited from doctors and medical experts who prescribe artemisinin medicines from Guangdong, Xu said.

Artemisinin is a gift of traditional Chinese medicine to the people of the world, he added.

Guangdong has also made remarkable achievements in breeding high-quality varieties of Artemisia annua.

The artemisinin content of individual plants has increased from 0.5 percent to 2.97 percent. An average of 5 kilograms of artemisinin can be extracted from a metric ton of Artemisia annua around the world, but in Fengshun county of Meizhou, Guangdong, it's 12 kg.

Artemisinin is an innovative drug with many advantages, including simplicity, high efficiency, quick effect and few side-effects, Xu said. "The tablets have become the main antimalarial drug in countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya."

Song Jianping, director of the Artemisinin Research Center at Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, said the WHO has affirmed China's contribution to the fight against malaria.

"The successful implementation of the demonstration project in Sao Tome has opened up a new path for Sao Tome and Principe to eliminate malaria," Song said.

At an international health forum last month on the 50th anniversary of the discovery of artemisinin, Comorian President Azali Assoumani said his country has benefited from artemisinin-based treatment. He expressed gratitude for the foresight of Chinese researchers and the country's generous help.

Comoros is now among the countries with the lowest malaria rates in East Africa. From 2012 to 2020, the rate dropped from nine per 1,000 to fewer than five per 1,000, Assoumani said, adding that Comoros also successfully blocked the disease transmission chain.

According to the WHO's World Malaria Report released last year, more than 140 million malaria cases were reported worldwide in 2020, with 470,000 deaths.

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