Why WHO is rooting for opening of schools in Africa despite the pandemic

The World Health Organization has appealed to African government to roll out phased reopening of schools saying that there are many dangers facing learners at home.

WHO issued a statement on Friday, August 21, 2020, where it expressed concerns over the continued closure of schools across various countries. The body cited various health and social problems which it said are now facing African-school going children.

 Top of them are the children benefitting from school feeding programs who it said face possible malnutrition problem.

“Some of the consequences of extended closure include poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood pregnancies and overall challenges in the mental development of children due to reduced interaction,” WHO said. 

Adding: “For girls, especially those displaced or living in low-income households, the risks of malnutrition and violence are even higher.”

WHO Regional Director for Africa DrMatshidisoMoeti urged governments to consider regulated opening of schools to enable learners to continue with their studies as countries continue battling the virus. 

“We must not be blindsided 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,” DrMoetisaid in WHO statement.

WHO boss however lauded the efforts of some countries that have slowly reopened their learning institutions.

“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.”

East and South African countries are some of the hotspots flagged by WHO where it said school-going children are at higher risk of facing malnutrition or violence at home.

According to WHO, most African parents are from low-income earning countries and therefore cannot afford to pay nannies to take care of children as they go to work. That they have to stay at home only means that they can barely afford a healthy diet for their children.

Kenya is among the countries yet to commence phased reopening of schools. Kenya’s Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha on August 19, 2020, said that he had left the decision to open the schools with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Speaking at Siaya Technical Institute, Prof Magoha conceded that a number of schools were yet to be reopened but the decision to return to normalcy a presidential one.

“More than 100,000 schools remain closed across the country but the decision to reopen them lies with President Uhuru. He is the one to decide whether he can take the risk,” he said.

He said added that the decision would be a huge gamble owing to the lack of safety. He added: “Others who have rushed have had to walk backwards, look at South Africa and America, kids have died, over 100,000 kids got infected in the US when they reopened, we do not want that.”

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