Palawan continues to have the highest number of malaria incidents in the country, but local efforts to eradicate the mosquito-borne disease say they are well on their way to reaching zero case reports by 2025, the threshold required to declare the entire country malaria-free by 2030.
Ynna Lauron-Doblado, the downstream program manager of the Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc. (PSFI), said that based on their records, the number of incidents in the province has considerably decreased since 1999, going from 53,451 to 2,218 as of September 2022.
The death toll had also dropped from 103 in 1999 to two by 2021. There has been no death this year.
PSFI, the Department of Health (DOH), and the government of Palawan are leading the charge against malaria in the province through the Kilusan Ligtas Malaria (KLM) program, which spawned the Movement Against Malaria (MAM) to leverage community-based activities to eliminate the mosquito-borne disease in the country.
One of the most pressing concerns their interventions are facing, she explained, is how to deal with the indigenous peoples (IP), whose communities are situated in the remote mountains of Southern Palawan.
“Dapat by 2025, wala na tayong kaso. Based sa projection, possible naman, pero siyempre malaking trabaho yon. Ang focus ngayon is yong mga IPs, kaya sila rin talaga yong tututukan ngayon ng mga interventions natin. Kaya more people working ngayon sa mga areas,” Doblado said.
“Mas malayo na sila… kung noon dito lang tayo sa bayan, ngayon talagang [nasa] bundok na sila, mga three hours walk. Although patag naman, pero yong mga nasa Bataraza, Brooke’s Point, yan medyo mataas talaga yan. Dyan na lang naiiwan yong mga last cases ng malaria,” she added.
DOH-CHD report on current cases
According to a recent update from the Department of Health-Center for Health Development (DOH-CHD) in Mimaropa, cases reported from Palawan remain high, accounting for nearly 90% of the total number of cases currently being reported in the country.
“Alam niyo ba na nubenta porsyento ng malaria ay kino-contribute ng Mimaropa? Sa Palawan ay dyan po pinaka mataas ang mga kaso ng malaria. 90% ng nagkakasakit ng malaria sa buong Pilipinas ay nanggagaling sa lalawigan ng Palawan,” said Dr. Vilma Diez, assistant regional director of the DOH-CHD.
Diez said this as she reminds the public that November has been designated as Malaria Awareness Month in accordance with Proclamation No. 1168.
She did not say how many malaria cases there are currently in the Philippines. However, according to records obtained by Palawan News from PSFI, the number of cases as of the third quarter of 2022 is 2,228.
Winston Malla, a nurse assigned to do malaria surveillance at the DOH-CHD in Mimaropa, stated that joint local efforts to attain zero cases in Palawan have resulted in significant changes, if records are examined further.
As of January 31 to October 31, 2022, he said Palawan had recorded 2,451 cases of the disease, “specifically in the southern part” based on the KLM and Online Malaria Information System (OMIS).
In comparison to the same period in 2021, which recorded 3,480 cases, he said Palawan’s current incidence rate is 29.56% lower.
“Mataas kung titingnan, pero ito ay 29.56% lower na po. This is very big achievement na, so mabisa yong ginagawa natin na mga adhikain, mga activities para sa malaria,” he said.
To date, he said reported cases are from Puerto Princesa City and the municipalities that are located in Southern Palawan—Rizal, Bataraza, Brooke’s Point, and Sofronio Española.
Local efforts vs malaria
Like Doblado, he said the terrain, or the difficulty of reaching communities where the mosquito-borne disease is still present among residents, is one of the main reasons why total elimination is taking long.
The impact that the IPs’ cultural practices and beliefs have on their health, which prevent them from seeking help when they experience symptoms, is another factor that prolongs the time it takes to reach the target.
“For now, we will still be continuing yong ginagawa ng Provincial Health Office ng Palawan, kung saan under ang KLM, in partnership with PSFI. What they’re doing right is continuing the advocacy campaign, and the promotion of vector control, which is yong indoor residual spraying or IRS sa mga bahay ng IPs at kung saan active ang transmission,” he said.
“Multifactorial ang laban, hindi lang vector control ang big contributor. Ang pinaka malaki pa rin talaga is yong awareness ng mga IPs. Yong ating mga anti-malaria volunteers, especially yong mga hawak ng LGUs, dapat hindi lang sila nagca-case detection, but also nag-i-inform din sila sa mga IPs kung paano maiiwasan ang malaria,” he added.
The use of treated bed nets and early detection of malaria parasites through blood smearing are contributing factors toward the overall goal of eradicating the disease, he said.
Attaining malaria-free Philippines
“Hopefully, by 2025, sa probinsya ng Palawan, ay marating na natin ang zero cases and ma-maintain natin hanggang 2030 para ang buong Pilipinas naman ay ma-declare as malaria-free,” Malla added.
Malla explained that if the malaria cases in Puerto Princesa City and Palawan are eliminated, it will be the reason why the Philippines, which is identified worldwide as having “Sub-national Status,” would be free of the mosquito-borne disease.
Before that status is reached, there is a need to maintain the 5-year zero malaria case reporting.
He used as an illustration the province of Occidental Mindoro, which has not reported a single instance of malaria since the year 2020. It must remain free of reported cases for a minimum of two more years before it can be considered malaria-free.
“For international standards, a country should maintain at least three years, but to make sure na dito sa Pilipinas ay hindi na magre-recur, or wala ng reintroduction ng malaria cases, in-extend natin siya to five years,” he explained.
“By 2024, makapagsimula na po silang (Occidental Mindoro) mag-defend, provided makapag maintain sila ng zero case. Ganoon din sa Palawan, hopefully, by 2025, zero reporting na tayo hanggang ma-reach natin ang 2030 para makapag present naman ang buong Palawan, including Puerto Princesa,” he further said.
In Mimaropa, Marinduque has been malaria-free since 2018, Romblon since 2012, and Oriental Mindoro since September 15, 2022.
With the addition of Occidental Mindoro that will be declared malaria-free by March 2023, Palawan will be the only remaining province in the region that has malaria.