History of Medicine
Malaria was historically a major threat to the health of the Chinese people. In 1950, over 30 million Chinese people suffered from malaria and one percent of them died. The Chinese government launched national campaigns against malaria in the early 1950s. Programs of malaria control were integrated in the general rural development of land reclamation, irrigation construction, and improvement of sanitary conditions for both humans and livestock.
While timely treatment of malaria is essential, the anti-malaria campaigns strongly emphasized preventive methods, as "prevention first" was the health policy in the 1950s-1980s. The campaigns aimed at eliminating the breeding grounds of mosquitoes, using community efforts to dredge rivers, fill up ditches, pull out weeds, and raise fish and ducks to feed on larvae. Residential sprays and bed-nets use were common practices to prevent malaria in both rural and urban areas. To root out malaria completely, the government registered all who suffered the disease in the previous two years and gave them medicine to prevent relapses. Barefoot doctors re-enforced the implementation of malaria control by distributing anti-malaria drugs and supervising patients taking them.
China achieved basic control of malaria by 1990. In 1998, there were 31 thousand malaria cases in China, with a morbidity of 0.25 per ten thousand, a drop of 99% compared to 1954. The proportion of malaria among the total cases of acute infectious diseases was reduced from 61.8 percent in 1954 to 1.3 percent in 1998, according to Tang Linhua (Chinese Medical Journal, 2000, vol. 113, no. 1:89-92). China's success in malaria control lies in an integrated program that emphasizes community participation, intersectional cooperation and collaboration in the administrative structure and multi-tier primary health care network. It takes repeated practices of an integrated system of multi-dimensional measures to fight malaria.
The anti-malaria posters in this online exhibit present both modern and traditional methods of prevention and treatment of malaria that China used from the 1950s through the 1970s. In disseminating health information, the posters also captured the social and political lives of China in those decades. For instance, Mao Zedong's writing on people's health became the trademark of the posters produced in the Cultural Revolution era. Posters produced in the peaceful early 1960s portrayed a harmonious happy society.
Today, about 300 to 500 million people world-wide are affected by malaria each year, and over one million people die from the disease, most in Africa. In an age of hi-tech and digital devices, health posters still play a useful role in propagating the methods and benefits of disease control. Lessons can be drawn from China's experience to benefit the community-oriented programs of malaria control in other countries.
Private organizations and government agencies are engaged in a global endeavor to fight malaria. Here are links to a few websites: