The country team of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (GFATM), based in Geneva, Switzerland, along with its communications team and several foreign media and journalists, recently conducted a field visit to Palawan.

This initiative was part of the GFATM-funded Movement Against Malaria (GF-MAM) Project, in collaboration with the Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc., Department of Health (DOH), Provincial Health Office (PHO), and Kilusan Ligtas Malaria (KLM) of the provincial government of Palawan. The Philippine country team did their activities from June 24-26.

Provincial information officer Atty. Christian Jay Cojamco said Thursday that the goal of the visit was to assess and document the current situation of malaria elimination efforts in the Philippines, particularly focusing on the experience of malaria disease reduction in Palawan.

The GF-MAM Project team visited the barangays of Bunog, Punta Baja, and Ransang in the municipality of Rizal. Cojamco stated that they engaged with local government officials, conducted interviews with barangay health workers (BHWs), volunteers, and Indigenous People (IP) leaders, alongside barangay officials.

“The team also visited Sitio Pinagar in Ransang, where they found a halfway house serving as a shelter and temporary clinic for individuals with uncomplicated cases of malaria,” he said.

This facility, funded by the PHO and KLM through PSFI, gathered barangay leaders and BHWs to conduct malaria smear tests, monitor the health of infants and children, distribute free medications, vitamins, long-lasting insecticidal nets, and food packs. In addition, an information and education Campaign (IEC) on malaria was conducted.

The group further visited the Rural Health Unit (RHU) and Rizal District Hospital in Brgy. Punta Baja to assess their current statuses, programs, and facilities for malaria patients.

Data from the DOH Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) states that malaria cases nearly doubled in the Philippines in 2023, totaling 6,248 cases, which is a 90% increase from the 3,245 cases reported in 2022.

Palawan remains one of the provinces with active malaria cases out of 82 provinces nationwide, recording 6,188 cases in 2023. Rizal town had the highest number of cases, with Brgy. Ransang leading with 768 cases last year.

As of January to May 2024, Palawan recorded 2,426 malaria cases out of 199,094 individuals tested through blood smearing. Rizal town continues to have the highest number of cases, with 1,417 cases, followed by Brooke’s Point with 397 cases and Bataraza with 335 cases.

During the activity in Sitio Pinagar, Ransang, in June, 14 individuals tested positive for malaria out of 451 tested through malaria smearing. From January to April 2024, in 11 barangays of Rizal, there were 357 positive cases, with Brgy. Ransang leading with 93 cases, followed by Punta Baja (62) and Panalingaan (46).

Factors contributing to the rise in cases in Palawan during the first quarter of the year include climate change, which led to increased breeding sites for Anopheles mosquitoes carrying malaria after heavy rains in January and February. The lifting of restrictions during the pandemic also contributed to this increase.

Doctors and residents interviewed during the visit said the lack of understanding and non-compliance with health advisories from DOH, LGU, and other agencies have also contributed to the rise in cases, especially in mountainous and remote barangays where malaria-carrying mosquitoes are most active from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Governor Dennis Socrates, Provincial Health Officer Dra. Faye Erika Labrador, KLM Program Manager Aileen Balderian, and PSFI continue to lead efforts to reduce malaria cases in Palawan and aim to achieve a malaria-free nation by 2030, as outlined by the DOH.

Cojamco said that moving forward, DOH, PHO, KLM, PSFI, and other government agencies are set to implement interventions and similar activities in other sitios and barangays across municipalities, especially in mountainous areas with malaria cases, in the coming months to conduct IEC campaigns and provide equipment and medications against malaria.