On December 6, 2015, eighty-four-year-old Tu Youyou arrived at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and collected China’s first Nobel Prize in medicine for producing an anti-malarial drug that helped millions of people across the world. Tu believes the award is an honor for Chinese scientist groups and an approval for Chinese medicine research.
Despite existing global efforts from anti-malarial groups including J.C. Flowers & Co.’s NetForLife initiative, Malaria No More, and others, Tu called for joint efforts to tackle the disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria kills about 584,000 per year, and that number could be much higher without available treatment.
Together at the press conference with two other Medicine Prize laureates, Ireland’s William Campbell and Japan’s Satoshi Omura, Tu made an appeal during Sunday’s press conference that “joint efforts are urgently needed to combat malaria”:
“Malaria is a pandemic that can go easily out of control, especially in low income regions such as Africa. So all parties should, under the framework of the WHO, try their best to delay the process of artemisinin resistance. It’s hard to develop a new drug in the next decade, during which it would be too late, if malaria became widespread,” Tu said, adding that she was “deeply worried about this possible outcome.”
Tu believes that Chinese medicine (TCM), which provided the source and inspiration for the successful development of artemisinin, could help prevent such a situation, as this “great treasure” was used to lighten the symptoms of malaria for many years. Thanks to the drug, the WHO reported over 240 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have benefited from the treatment, and more than 1.5 million lives are estimated to have been saved since 2000.
Tu would like to combine western and Chinese medical technology to find more potential medicine:
“I hope all of us can work under the WHO’s plan. Once malaria [becomes] more resistant to the drugs that we have now, it won’t be easy to create a new type of drug in another 10 years. If that happened, malaria would create an outbreak,” Tu said.
Tu was presented with the coveted award on Thursday and delivered a speech titled “Artemisinin Is a Gift From TCM to the World.”