WHO, UNICEF urge safe reopening of schools in Africa

(Source: @WHOAFRO)

New Delhi (NVI): The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF has, urged governments in Africa to promote the safe reopening of schools while also limiting the spread of the virus.

According to the UN agencies, the unprecedented and prolonged school closures aimed at keeping students safe from COVID-19 are harming them in other ways, therefore, governments must consider reopening of schools.

“Schools have paved the way to success for many Africans. They also provide a safe haven for many children in challenging circumstances to develop and thrive,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“We must not be blind-sided by our efforts to contain COVID-19 and end up with a lost generation. Just as countries are opening businesses safely, we can reopen schools. This decision must be guided by a thorough risk analysis to ensure the safety of children, teachers and parents and with key measures like physical distancing put in place.” Moeti said.

A WHO survey of 39 sub-Saharan African countries has revealed that schools are open in only six nations and partially open in 19. They are closed in 14 nations, although 12 plan to resume classroom learning in September, the start of the academic year.

Moreover, the disruption to education has resulted in poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood pregnancies, and overall challenges in the mental development of children.

UNICEF found violence against children has increased in Eastern and Southern Africa. With 10 million children missing out on school meals, nutrition rates have decreased, with especially high risk among girls, particularly those who have been displaced or from low-income households.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has also highlighted the potential long-term social and economic impact of shutdowns in sub-Saharan Africa, which could result in lifetime earning losses of USD 4,500 per child.

“The long-term impact of extending the school shutdown risks ever greater harm to children, their future and their communities,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern & Southern Africa, Mohamed M Malick Fall.

“When we balance the harm being done to children locked out of schools, and if we follow the evidence, it leads children back into the classroom,” Fall said.

WHO, UNICEF and the International Federation of Red Cross have issued guidance on COVID-19 prevention and control in schools.

It includes recommendations for physical distancing measures, such as staggering the beginning and end of the school day, spacing desks when possible, and providing handwashing facilities.

The agencies also recommend a range of hygiene and disinfection measures for schools to reopen and operate safely, including regular handwashing, daily cleaning of surfaces, basic water, sanitation and waste management facilities.

However, a recent report by the two UN agencies found millions of children attend schools that lack water, sanitation and hygiene services. In sub-Saharan Africa, only a quarter of schools have basic hygiene services, 44 per cent of them have basic drinking water and 47 per cent have basic sanitation services

The COVID-19, thus provide an opportunity for investment and innovative thinking to address these shortages, the UN agencies said.