WHO urges safe reopening of schools in Africa amid COVID-19 risks



The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged African countries to put solid COVID-19 prevention measures in place before embarking on reopening of learning institutions.

WHO said in a statement released in Nairobi that reopening of schools in the Sub-Saharan African region should be accompanied by strict adherence to protocols and guidelines meant to contain the spread of coronavirus.

"Just as countries are opening businesses safely, we can reopen schools," said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

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, she added.

A recent survey conducted by WHO in 39 Sub-Saharan African countries indicated that schools were open fully in six countries, closed in 14 and partially open in 19 to enable students to do examinations.

More than 10 African countries are planning to resume in-person learning in September, which marks the beginning of the academic year.

Moeti acknowledged that reopening of schools is key to boosting physical, mental and emotional health of children, adding that adequate safeguards should be in place to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19.

"Schools provide a safe haven for many children in challenging circumstances to develop and thrive. We must not be blind-sided by our efforts to contain COVID-19 and end up with a lost generation," said Moeti.

The UN children's fund (UNICEF) said that extended school closures have increased the vulnerability of African children to hunger, malnutrition, depression and sexual violence.

A survey carried out by UNICEF in eastern and southern Africa revealed that violence against children had spiked during the prolonged school closures while about 10 million minors were missing free meals.

Recommendations from WHO and UNICEF stressed the need for African learning institutions to promote social distancing, hand washing and waste management to ensure their reopening does not compromise the health of students.