Pioneer of prevention

By Zhang Ni Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/25 18:53:40

Academician dedicated to containing epidemics for national rejuvenation

Wang Longde, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering Photo: IC

Wang Longde, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, served as vice minister of the National Health Commission of China for more than 10 years, playing a significant leadership role in the country's public health field. 

As president of the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association, he has been engaged in professional research on epidemiology and public health promotion in China for more than a decade. He put forward and led the establishment of China's network-based infectious and emergent disease reporting system.

"Personal growth is closely related to the whole country," Wang told the Global Times. He believes that only by paying attention to the most important needs of the country and the people can a person make real achievements in his or her career development. This belief is reflected in his decades of efforts in China's AIDS prevention work.

The end of the 20th century saw  AIDS spreading fast in China, especially in the country's central region. Due to the large number of paid blood donors, many people became infected in the 1990s, and developed full-blown AIDS after eight to 10 years. 

When Wang took charge of disease control in early 2004, he made several trips to Central China's Henan Province and found that the biggest problem was the inability to determine who had been infected.

"At that time, China began implementing the 'Four Free and One Care' policy to help all Chinese HIV/AIDS sufferers. The program provided free ARV drugs, free prevention of mother-to-child transmission, free voluntary counseling and testing, free education for children orphaned by AIDS and care to people living with HIV. But who should be our target? That was a major problem," Wang told the Global Times.

"I felt the most urgent task was to find out the source of the outbreak. In June and July of 2004, there were 280,000 paid blood donors registered, and we found more than 23,000 HIV patients out of 250,000 donors. If we could track them, it would enable us to offer treatment, and tighten control in our prevention work," he said.

This approach drew condemnation from some other countries due to concerns over human rights violations, as AIDS testing was conducted on a voluntary basis in many other countries, Wang said.

"However, soon after, some global institutions realized that our testing scheme had dramatically improved the effectiveness of HIV prevention work. Since then, they have gradually changed their views," he said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under the Department of Health and Human Services in the US, for example, changed its AIDS testing guidelines in 2006 to encourage healthcare providers to make testing a routine program.

At the 16th International Conference on AIDS, held in Toronto in 2006, former US president Bill Clinton said in his speech that China recognized the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic and began to take comprehensive measures to address the problem. Clinton suggested that China's actions deserve the respect of the US, according to Wang.

"It shows that we have grasped the key problem, adopted some innovative models instead of following the outdated views of the international community to deal with the epidemic and achieved good results," Wang said. "This is the contribution China has made to the international community.

A similarly grim challenge emerged in the effort to detect those infected during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a viral respiratory disease. 

"In March 2003, an investigation revealed that there had been 320 infected cases, but we only received just over 20 cases. That was largely because of our outdated information reporting system," said him.

"The way traditional reporting systems work is that when doctors find infected patients, they fill out a paper report card and report it to state authorities step by step, which takes a long time. How can patients with serious infectious diseases like SARS survive this lagging and inefficient reporting system?" he said.

"We thought about how we could construct an efficient information reporting highway by taking advantage of network resources. We immediately developed our network-based reporting system, and quickly put it into operation one month later. The digital system took only six hours from diagnosis to hearing of the cases at the CDC," Wang recalled. 

Since then, Wang could keep up to date on local conditions, the number of patients and the progress of the control measures at his office. By late May of 2003, the epidemic had been effectively controlled, and the transmission route largely cut thanks to the efficiency of the electronic network. By mid-June, there were almost no new cases.

In the past 70 years, it is fair to say that the biggest change in Chinese people's health has been the increase in average life expectancy, from 35 years in the early days of the founding of the People's Republic of China to 77 years today. This is thanks to infectious disease control, especially vaccinating children. 

Nowadays, the incidence of diseases such as measles and DTP (Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis) in China has been greatly reduced, which reflects the remarkable achievements we have made in this respect, Wang said.

In May of 2018, a report from Lancet, a world-leading medical journal, revealed that the score for China's healthcare access and quality was 77.9 in 2016, placing it 48th out of 195 countries and regions. Between 1990 and 2016, China significantly increased its score for healthcare access and quality (an increase of 35.5 points), achieving some of the most pronounced gains worldwide. China has also seen one of the biggest improvements in medical quality.

The State Council, China's cabinet, has issued new guidelines to implement the country's Healthy China initiative and promote people's health. "A healthy China is fundamental to the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Without effective control of chronic diseases, we cannot achieve a 'Healthy China,'" said Wang. "That's why we are making health a national strategic priority."

Li Sikun and Hu Yuwei contributed to the story


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