Deborah Arroz was working as a farmer on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. One morning she woke with a fever. Over three days she suffered chills and convulsions, and was afraid she might die.

“I walked five kilometres to my old village for treatment,” she says.

In Mangingisda a clinic tests patients with symptoms of malaria. A worker took a sample of Deborah’s blood, diagnosed her with malaria and gave her anti-malarial drugs.

Prevention and cure

In the 1990s more than a fifth of Filipinos were at risk of contracting the disease. On Palawan alone, more than 50,000 people were thought to be infected. Many people shared misconceptions about how malaria is spread. “We thought the infection was caused by eating pineapple on an empty stomach or drinking coconut juice,” says Deborah.

To help educate people and treat the disease, in 1999 the Pilipinas Shell Foundation launched the Kilusan Ligtas Malaria (Movement Against Malaria) social investment programme.

The foundation manages community projects for Shell Philippines Exploration, which produces natural gas for power on Palawan. It worked with the provincial government and the Department of Health to set up 344 malaria village microscopy laboratories in Palawan province, where trained local staff detect the malaria parasite in blood smears.

The programme provides printed information and holds village meetings to raise awareness of malaria prevention. It encourages people to sleep under the mosquito nets, wear trousers and long-sleeved shorts in the evening, and clear streams where mosquitoes breed.

Growing support

In 2006 the programme received a $14 million five-year grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to expand to four more provinces. The fund gathers contributions from governments and private donors – including Shell. A further grant in 2010 provided $31.4 million and increased the total number of provinces to 40. Most recently, a grant of $15.7 million was approved for 2015-2017, focusing on 13 provinces.

Since the programme started in 1999, it has helped reduce malaria deaths in Palawan by nearly 94%, from around 99 a year to five in 2014.

Deborah recovered from her infection. She now works full-time as a volunteer testing others for malaria in the village where she lives. To boost her income she has also learned how to make herbal soaps, which she sells in her region, thanks to one of the workshops offered by the programme.

“Now I have a comfortable life,” says Deborah. “I want to help protect my neighbours from the suffering I experienced.”

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