A Chinese anti-malaria team works with local volunteers on the outskirts of Sao Tome, capital of Sao Tome and Principe. [Photo/Xinhua]
For Sao Tome and Principe, an island country in the southeast of the Gulf of Guinea and off the western equatorial coast of central Africa, the priority issue in the public health field is malaria. Its annual malaria incidence is as high as 10 percent.
A Chinese anti-malaria expert team has used Artequick to control malaria since 2017, bringing hope to Sao Tome and Principe for realizing its goal of eradicating malaria by 2025.
With the arrival of this year's rainy season, Sao Tome and Principe is about to enter the malaria epidemic season. In order to help the country get rid of malaria as soon as possible, Guo Wenfeng, an expert from the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, led a team of Chinese anti-malaria experts to carry out a mass drug administration (MDA) for 10 malaria-prone villages in Sao Tome and Principe starting from the end of March.
The MDA is a mass prevention and treatment method included in the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent and treat malaria. The method is the simultaneous administration of a full course of anti-malarial drugs to every person living in a defined area with a high incidence, so as to eliminate the source of malaria infection. It's one of the most effective methods to curb malaria.
The Chinese anti-malaria expert team has been working with Sao Tome and Principe's Ministry of Health and its disease control center's anti-malaria team since 2017 to classify the country's villages into four categories according to the incidence of malaria, and carried out the Chinese anti-malaria solution, with eliminating the infection source as the priority and the MDA campaign in defined areas as key methods, in an orderly way.
Artequick, an innovative drug independently developed by China, is the core of China's anti-malaria solution. The drug has obtained international patent protection in 40 countries, including the United States, and was listed by China's Ministry of Commerce as the frontline anti-malarial drug for China's aid to Africa.
"At first, the government of Sao Tome and Principe was skeptical of the anti-malaria solution, and it was only in July 2019 that we were allowed to pilot in the village of Liberdade, which has the highest incidence of malaria," Guo said.
The MDA pilot project in Liberdade achieved remarkable results. Guo said the total population of Liberdade is about 500, but the annual number of reported malaria cases was once as high as more than 1,000, which means each villager was infected twice on average.
The drug Guo's team used during the MDA pilot project in Liberdade is Artequick, according to Guo. “Its main principle is to kill the plasmodium parasites in human body," Guo said, adding that the solution has achieved particularly good results in the Comoros, Vietnam, Cambodia and other countries.
After three rounds of MDA, Liberdade achieved zero incidence for eight consecutive months. China's anti-malaria solution has gradually gained recognition and praise from the government and people of Sao Tome and Principe. The annual average malaria incidence rate in pilot villages near Sao Tome, capital of the country, has dropped from 60 percent to 3 percent in recent years.
"It's a good way for the whole village to take the medicine together. I hope such measures will be sustained and then malaria will be cleared soon," said Fonseca, a villager who took the medicine.
In addition to the MDA, the Chinese expert team has also set up a taskforce to conduct in-depth research to identify the epidemic pattern of malaria in the country and help it minimize the number of malaria cases. The team even cultivated a highly professional, regular and stable local anti-malaria team.
The malaria elimination reference laboratory in Sao Tome and Principe, built with China's assistance, was renovated in October 2021 and soon will be officially inaugurated. The laboratory will fill the gap in malaria testing in Sao Tome and Principe, and help the country improve its malaria testing capacity.
In March, Sao Tome and Principe's Minister of Health Filomena Monteiro expressed high appreciation and heartfelt thanks to China for its selfless assistance and contribution of the Chinese anti-malaria expert team in achieving the goal of malaria elimination in Sao Tome and Principe.
She said that the government of Sao Tome and Principe has always regarded malaria prevention and treatment as a health priority, and with the joint efforts of the anti-malaria teams of both countries, the incidence of malaria in Sao Tome and Principe has been greatly reduced.