A health worker conducts a blood smear to test for malaria parasites in an infant in Rizal town, southern Palawan. (Photo from the Palawan Provincial Information Office)

The Department of Health (DOH) in Mimaropa has adjusted the target from 2025 to 2026 to achieve zero malaria cases in Palawan, the only province in the Philippines still grappling with the mosquito-borne disease.

Based on the newly launched Palawan Malaria Accelerated Elimination and Sustainability Plan (PMAESP), the new objective is to eradicate malaria from the province by 2026.

Initially aimed for 2020, the target was shifted six years ago to 2025 to synchronize with the national government’s aspiration of achieving a malaria-free Philippines.

The PMAESP was developed through the joint efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO), DOH-Center for Health and Development in Mimaropa, Palawan Provincial Health Office (PHO), and Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc. (PSFI).

The plan includes training and orientation programs that have already begun, with local government units (LGUs) responsible for its implementation.

Dr. Mario Baquilod, the regional director of the DOH-Center for Health Development in the region, stated on July 2 in a Philippine Information Agency (PIA)-hosted press briefing that the implementation of the anti-malaria plan has the potential to result in the Philippines being officially recognized as malaria-free by the WHO by the year 2030.

He said the battle against the mosquito-borne disease is still not over in Palawan.

“We have finalized that acceleration plan and nag-craft na rin kami ng training plan para sa elimination, which we did last month. Nagkaroon na ng orientation [at] training about this. Ongoing [ang] implementation, and hopefully, we will be meeting with the government to personally turnover the plan,” Baquilod stated.

The indigenous population of Palawan has been hit the hardest by the 1,000 confirmed cases of malaria as of May. Nearly everyone tested positive for malaria in the province’s southern area, according to the DOH Mimaropa.

Oscar Macam, Jr., the manager responsible for managing diseases transmitted by vectors, noted that the regional health office is currently waiting for DOH Secretary Teodoro Herbosa and Palawan Governor Dennis Socrates’ availability to hand over the new anti-malaria strategy.

“Habang hinihintay ang turnover, ongoing ang implementation na inilatag ng mga local government units kung ano ang mga plano [para] maging zero ang Palawan by 2026,” Macam said.

Historically, Palawan has experienced varying levels of malaria transmission. Efforts to control and eliminate malaria have been ongoing, with varying success over the years.

The most common malaria parasite species in Palawan include Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax. P. falciparum tends to cause more severe malaria, while P. vivax can lead to recurring malaria if not treated effectively.