WHO China celebrates World Health Day

Lessons from China on combating vector-borne diseases

News release

The World Health Day is celebrated on 7 April each year to recognize the anniversary of the WHO’s First Health Assembly in 1948. Since taking effect in 1950, the celebration has aimed to create awareness of a specific health theme and to highlight a priority area of concern for the World Health Organization. The theme for 2014, “Small bite, big threat”, highlights the risk of vectors, and vector-borne diseases.

“Mosquitoes, snails, ticks and bugs are not only a nuisance; they may also transmit life-threatening diseases such as malaria, dengue, schistosomiasis and lymphatic filariasis. It is important that we protect all citizens, in particular the poorest amongst us who are especially vulnerable, from the suffering that these diseases are causing,” said Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO Representative in China.

On 4 April, in conjunction with the World Health Day 2014, a ceremony was held in Beijing in the presence of Vice Minister Cui Li of the National Health and Family Planning Commission and other national and city leaders, to launch the 26th National Patriotic Health Month. This event was organized by the National Patriotic Health Campaign Committee with the theme: “away from vectors and enjoy our health”.

During the opening ceremony, Dr Bernhard Schwartländer gave a speech where he applauded China’s government for its leadership in taking control of vector-borne diseases.

“China has come a long way. National public health campaigns since 1949 have effectively improved hygiene and sanitary conditions, which have substantially reduced most vector-borne infectious diseases,” said Dr Schwartländer.

In 1955, about 6 million malaria cases were reported in China. In 2013, this number was down to less than 3,000. And most parts of China are now malaria-free. Lymphatic filariasis, transmitted through mosquitoes, has virtually disappeared. And the number of people who fell ill with schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms released by freshwater snails, has fallen dramatically.

“But we have to look at the future as new challenges are at the doorstep. We see new threats emerging as vector-borne diseases begin to spread beyond their traditional boundaries. An interconnected world and climate changes create opportunities for vectors and diseases to cross borders and find new niches,” said Dr Schwartländer.

Diseases such as malaria, dengue, or even yellow fever pose a permanent threat to China which can result in multiple outbreaks.

Because of the continuous threat posed by the vector-borne diseases, on this World Health Day, Mr Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, urges all countries to make vector control a priority.

“The call for action from the UN Secretary General is a reminder that we need to continue working together for a China free of vector-borne diseases,” said Dr Schwartländer.

“China has ambitiously decided to eliminate malaria and schistosomiasis once and for all. I want to applaud the Government of China to this bold step which undoubtedly is another example of how China can lead the world, “ concluded Dr Schwartländer.

For more information, please contact:

Ms WU Linlin
WHO China Office
E-mail: wul@wpro.who.int
Office Tel: +86 10 6532 7191