Two in five schools around the world lacked basic handwashing facilities prior to COVID-19 pandemic, World health organisation and UNICEF have said.
As schools worldwide struggle with reopening, the latest data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) reveal that 43 per cent of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019, a key condition for schools to be able to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, Global school closures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and wellbeing.
“We must prioritise children’s learning. This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation,” Fore said.
According to the report released by WHO and UNICEF to KNA on Wednesday, around 818 million children lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools, which put them at increased risk of COVID-19 and other transmittable diseases.
More than one third of these children (295 million) are from sub-Saharan Africa, the report says adding that in the least developed countries, 7 out of 10 schools lack basic handwashing facilities and half of schools lack basic sanitation and water services.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General says that access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including schools.
“It must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic,” he added
The report stresses that governments seeking to control the spread of COVID-19 must balance the need for implementation of public health measures versus the associated social and economic impacts of lockdown measures.
Other key findings from the report say that of the 818 million children who lacked a basic hand washing service at their school, 355 million went to schools which had facilities with water but no soap, and 462 million to schools which had no facilities or water available for handwashing.
In the 60 countries at highest risk of health and humanitarian crises due to COVID-19, the report says that 3 in 4 children lacked basic hand washing service at their school at the start of the outbreak, half of all children lacked basic water service and more than half lacked basic sanitation service.
The report has identified several resources necessary for COVID-19 prevention and control in schools, including 10 immediate actions and safety checklists on guidelines on the safe reopening of schools issued by UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and the World Bank
Meanwhile, Kenya’s school calendar has been pushed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 outbreak with Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha saying consultations among key stakeholders including, parents and teachers’ unions, are all in agreement that schools can only re-open once the COVID-19 curve is flattened.
Currently the country is approaching the 30,000 mark of confirmed COVID 19 cases, since the outbreak and according to the CS who has been going around the country to check on preparedness of institutions of learning, the biggest challenge for schools will be the physical distancing.
“Our classes hold over 40 students, per class, we have been advised by the Health ministry that a class should at least have 15 and 20 students in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus and this is going to be a big challenge”, Prof Magoha said.
By Wangari Ndirangu