writers Yao Yuan and Wen Hao NAIROBI (Xinhua) --
Comoros, a small
African country located in the Indian Ocean, is pursuing
a total annihilation of malaria, five years after a
Chinese-backed project drove out the lethal disease from
its two islands.
The archipelago nation, which
controls three islands of Grande Comore, Moheli and
Anjouan and claims sovereignty over Mayotte Island under
France’s administration, is currently discussing
collaboration to achieve that goal in three years
together with Chinese scientists, who confirmed this to
Xinhua ahead of the World Malaria Day that falls on
The Chinese team hopes that the Comoros victory,
using a Chinese-developed drug and an unconventional
approach, can pave a new trail for the battle against
this mosquito-borne disease.
Malaria kills about half a million people every year
in the world, with Africa claiming some 90 percent of
Comoros, however, is among the few African nations
that now seem ready to shake off this stigma.
Song Jianping, who heads the visiting team from
Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine (GZUCM) of
southern China, said that they aim to help Comoros
annihilate malaria by 2020.
Researchers from GZUCM helped administer the
2007-2013 projects with medicines donated by China.
They will pinpoint the remaining infection areas and
apply small-scale mass drug administration (MDA), said
Song, director of GZUCM’s Tropical Medicine Institute.
For many residents in Comoros, malaria and the
horrors it invokes are already becoming a fading memory.
Nassurddine Houssen, 51, remembered how his parents
used to spend every evening worrying about the cost of
buying mosquito coils.
Malaria kills a child every two minutes.
"During my childhood, I knew many friends (who were)
killed by the mosquito disease (malaria)," said Houssen,
a resident of Anjouan Island.
"My younger sister nearly died from it."
"Children died, and we did not know exactly why.
"Many parents thought it was because of the demon,"
said Echat Malide, director of Anjouan’s Hombo Hospital,
recalling a time when malaria affected two thirds of
Comoros’ population of 800,000 and was the top killer
disease on the islands off Africa’s southeastern coast.
The tides of change began in 2007, when a team of
Chinese scientists introduced an anti-malaria project to
the island of Moheli before extending it to Anjouan in
2012 and Grande Comore in 2013.
On the three islands, it led to a 98-percent drop in
malaria cases, from over 100,000 to 1,300 a year, said
Chinese Ambassador to Comoros He Yanjun.
Unlike traditional methods of killing mosquitoes and
preventing mosquito bites, the project asked residents
to simultaneously take medicine to flush out the malaria
parasites in a procedure called MDA.
It builds on the concept that mosquitoes are vectors
passing the parasites from person to person.
Therefore, if the human "source" is purged, the
mosquitoes will have no bugs left to pass on.
Five years after the project, Comoros’ two islands of
Moheli and Anjouan are today considered malaria-free.
Officials said that all 16 cases in 2016 were
The island of Grande Comore, where the MDA
participation rate was lower than the two islands,
recorded 1,641 cases in 2016.
The new project, likely to be launched later this
year, will build on the popularity of the previous MDA
efforts, whose success in containing malaria spread have
excited Comoros residents.
"In Anjouan and Moheli there is no malaria now ...
"There are still a few cases in Grande Comore but it
has dropped a lot," said Layar Idoine, citing her
experience as a doctor having worked on Grande Comore
Also gone with the constant breakouts are the
prevalent fears of contracting malaria and the financial
burden imposed by the treatment costs on this nation,
regarded as among the poorest in the world.
"(In the past) Malaria was in the minds of people.
"When a person is sick, everyone thought it was
"Whenever someone got fever, they went out to buy
nivaquine (an anti-malaria drug) and paracetamol," said
Affane Barcar, chief of Comoros’ national
anti-malaria program, said that the previous project’s
success further motivated the Comoros people to
"Malaria caused the economy to fail.
The country’s productivity used to be at half mast,
and the success rate of children in schools was low
because of the absenteeism," he told Xinhua.
"Now we see the difference from the years past.
"We see an increase in success of our students, and
attendance in health facilities has decreased by 40
In a 2016 report, the World Health Organization (WHO)
listed Comoros as among the six African nations on
course to eliminate malaria by 2020.
In January this year, Comoros also won the award of
the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) at an AU
meeting in recognition for its efforts to tame malaria.
Africa is committed to eliminating malaria by 2030,
as articulated in the continent’s development agenda
The disease remains Africa’s major healthcare
challenge, and is estimated to rob the continent of 12
billion U.S. dollars per year in lost productivity,
investment and healthcare costs, Moussa Faki Mahamat,
chairperson of the AU Commission, said in January.
In an interview with Xinhua, He, the Chinese
ambassador to Comoros, hailed the anti-malaria project
for demonstrating China’s medical innovation and its
robust cooperation with Africa.
"This project is a good demonstration of the
China-Africa friendship, partnership and brotherhood, as
well as of China’s African policy of sincerity, real
results, affinity and good faith," He said.
The main weapon used in the project is a
Chinese-developed drug called Artequick, a new
artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) that
combines artemisinin, piperaquine and a small dose of
Its main ingredient artemisinin, now at the front of
the world’s battle with malaria, was discovered by
renowned Chinese scientist Tu Youyou, 2015 Medicine
Nobel Prize winner, from sweet wormwood, a herb mostly
grown in China.
"Artemisinin has a swift effect against malaria
parasites, while piperaquine has a longer-lasting
effect," said Deng Changsheng, a researcher at GZUCM and
member of the anti-malaria team.
"The combination also makes it less likely to build
Li Guoqiao, who led a team to administer the Moheli
project, explained that by mass administering that drug
in a limited period of time, the real source of the
disease will be addressed.
"The MDA strategy is like a running match with
mosquitoes’ life circle.
"It requires residents to take medicines twice in two
months, a period when new mosquitoes will not get
parasites; It is also a period that old, infected ones
cannot outlive," said the GZUCM professor.
Song said the strategy suits the island nation’s
conditions, including its small population and limited
mobility of people.
Such innovations are also needed in African nations
where traditional methods of killing mosquitoes and
distributing mosquito nets failed to work, he said.
"There is no fixed solution for malaria, and Comoros
is just a good example of that. It tells us that seeing
to the local conditions is very important," Song said.
Going forward, the Chinese scientists said they will
also strengthen cooperation with Comoros on medical
personnel training and anti-malaria capacity building.
Deng said such efforts are important if Comoros hopes
to maintain its victory against malaria.
The good news is that the previous cooperation has
helped Comoros build up its own malaria monitoring team.
In a lab inside Comoros’ anti-malaria center, several
local technicians were looking for malaria parasites on
purple-colored chips that contained blood samples of
local villagers. Beside it is another lab for sampling
Kamal Said Abdullah, a technician at the center, told
Xinhua that they go on field trips twice a week to
collect blood and mosquito samples from different places
"We’re closely monitoring the situation. When we
detect malaria cases, we will revisit the place and
distribute medicines to timely address the issue," he
(Xiao Sisi in
China’s Guangdong also contributed to the story.)