Eager to extend its experience in combatting malaria in African countries, Taiwanese heath officials will help fight the epidemic by funding an anti-malaria campaign in the small African state of Sao Tome and Principe.
On Dec. 1 last year, Sao Tome and Principe President Fradique de Menezes launched the campaign -- financially and logistically supported by Taiwan -- to eradicate mosquitoes that carry malaria, a disease which kills four out of every 10 people in the archipelago.
Earlier last year, an anti-malaria drive on the island of Principe produced excellent results, with no cases of malaria being reported by the island's hospitals, Sao Tome and Principe's health ministry said.
"African countries have not succeeded in wiping out the disease," said Shao Li-chung (邵立中), deputy secretary general of the International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF), the agency funding the anti-malaria drive.
"Sao Tome and Principe will be the first African country to eradicate malaria if our campaign in the country is successful."
The anti-malaria campaign in Sao Tome and Principe is a testament to Taiwan's public health capabilities. "We will show that we have the right to join the World Health Organization [WHO] and other international health bodies," Shao said.
Malaria is thought to kill at least one million people worldwide each year, most of them in Africa, according to WHO statistics.
In 2000, the ICDF under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dispatched a six-member medical team to assess the spread of malaria in Sao Tome and Principe, which established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1997.
The team reported that spraying mosquitoes and larvae with insecticide might effectively curb the spread of the disease in the country. About half of the archipelago's 150,000 inhabitants suffer from malaria each year, according to the country's health ministry.
People usually contract the disease after being bitten by an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Only Anopheles mosquitoes can transmit malaria. These mosquitoes spread the disease by biting an infected person and then later biting another person.
A failed attempt by the WHO in the 1980s to eradicate malaria in Sao Tome and Principe by spraying deepened the country's disapproval of adopting that method again.
From 1980 to 1982, the WHO launched a spraying project in the African nation, reducing the malaria infection rate from 19.2 percent to 0.6 percent. But it was discontinued, and malaria infection has gotten worse, according to a 1986 UN health report.
Lien, a dengue fever expert who started studying mosquitoes at the age of 17, played a key role in Taiwan's campaign to wipe out malaria in the 1960s. He was recruited by the ICDF to lead the anti-malaria drive in Sao Tome and Principe and made his first trip there in July 2003.
Upon arriving, Lien began to research mosquito activities in the archipelago.
"I found that the most active period for mosquitoes which carry malaria usually starts at 9pm and lasts till 2am," he said.
Many children, especially those below the age of 5, were dying from the disease, Lien said.
"I began thinking that most children might catch the disease while indoors. If this was so, spraying insecticide on the walls of house could effectively curb the spread of malaria," he said.
The first spraying program was launched in August 2003. A few months later, a section of the hospital catering to malaria patients reported that all its beds were empty.