The Chinese drug artemisinin has been hailed as one of the greatest advances in fighting malaria, the scourge of the tropics, since the discovery of quinine centuries ago. Artemisinin’s discovery is being talked about as a candidate for a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Millions of American taxpayer dollars are spent on it for Africa every year. But few people realize that in one of the paradoxes of history, the drug was discovered thanks to Mao Zedong, who was acting to help the North Vietnamese in their jungle war against the Americans. Or that it languished for 30 years thanks to China’s isolation and the indifference of Western donors, health agencies and drug companies.
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