MPs set out new measures to ensure safety in schools

Parents collect their children at Mukumu Girls High School in Kakamega on April 3, 2023, after it was closed indefinitely by Ministry of Education officials following the deaths of two students and hospitalisation of dozens of others due to a disease outbreak.

Photo credit: Isaac Wale I Nation Media Group

Members of Parliament have demanded the establishment of clinics with at least one nurse in all public schools and the inspection of school food by health officials.

The lawmakers were discussing the deaths of three students and a teacher at Sacred Heart Mukumu Girls High School in Kakamega County, with authorities blaming it on food poisoning.

The MPs said the safety of the food being consumed by students in high schools is not ascertained by any health officer, exposing learners to deadly diseases.

They have also called on food handlers in all schools to undergo training and ensure that they are disease free before handling food to be taken by the learners.

National Assembly Departmental Committee on Education Chairman Julius Melly said they had instructed Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu and Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang’ to prepare a comprehensive report on disease outbreaks in schools.

“It’s quite disturbing that we can have cases of cholera, which is caused by poor hygiene, in this day and age,” Mr Meli said.

The lawmakers accused principals of overcrowding their schools in order to get higher capitation while compromising on sanitation standards in the process.

At Sacred Heart Mukumu Girls, it is reported that, even after the students started exhibiting symptoms associated with a serious infection, the management kept them in the sick bay for days before they were finally taken to hospital.

Seme MP James Nyikal, who is a former Public Health principal secretary, said schools, just like hotels, should be regularly inspected by public health officials.

In the case of Mukumu, the Ministry of Health last Friday said the infection that claimed the lives of four people was linked to Enterotoxigeic E. coli and Salmonella typhi. This was after tests on samples conducted by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri). According to Kemri, Enterotoxigeic E. coli is transmitted through food or water contaminated with animal or human faeces.

Salmonella typhi is the bacteria that causes typhoid fever and is spread through sewage contamination of food or water and through person-to-person contact. Butere MP Tindi Mwale said it has become difficult to ascertain food safety in schools.

“Sewage often mixes with clean water leading to the outbreak of diseases such as typhoid and cholera,” Mr Mwale said.

Emurua Dikir MP Johana Ng'eno Johana Ngeno voiced the urgent need to have dispensaries with at least one nurse and a doctor on call.

“We need to have health officers check what these students are eating. Because when you cook for a big group, you overlook a lot of things, which end up affecting students,” Mr Ng’eno said.

Kakamega woman representative Elsie Muhanda called for the expansion of infrastructure to accommodate growing student populations.

Emuhaya MP Omboko Milemba called for better coordination between schools and the Education and Health ministries.

Failed to address

Mr Milemba criticised Mr Machogu for ordering the transfer of former Sacred Heart Mukumu Girls High School Principal Frida Ndolo, saying, he had failed to address the real issue.

“Why was that principal moved yet we are leaving the real problems in our schools? Boarding schools are overstretched and principals are unable to do anything about it,” he added.

The committee is set to table a report in the House on what transpired in the schools and recommend ways of making learning the institutions safer.

As schools close today, the MPs called on the government to ensure the facilities are inspected and students immunized against cholera before they report back.