A long national effort to eradicate malaria in China has paid off: The World Health Organization decreed Wednesday that the country is free of the disease. The success "was hard-earned and came only after decades of targeted and sustained action," said the agency's director general, the New York Times reports. "With this announcement, China joins the growing number of countries that are showing the world that a malaria-free future is a viable goal." The campaign drove the number of cases down from 30 million in the 1940s—300,000 of them fatal—to none in 2017, per Science. An independent panel went to China last month to certify that there were no malaria cases. Australia, Brunei, and Singapore are the only nations in the WHO's Western Pacific area that have wiped out malaria.
China intensified and broadened its effort in 2010, employing police, the army, and various government agencies. They were given deadlines for each step in reporting and containing the mosquito-borne illness. As part of the campaign, a scientist checked traditional Chinese medicines for compounds that were active against malaria. Tu Youyou found artemisinin from sweet wormwood—Artemisia annua—which became the core compound of the front-line drugs used against malaria today, bringing him a Nobel Prize in 2015. The WHO cautioned Wednesday that malaria could resurface in China, but the most urgent problem now is in Africa, which accounts for 94% of all cases and deaths. China, which is the 40th country to wipe out malaria, has made efforts to help African nations replicate its success. (Read more malaria stories.)