Reopen schools, WHO now advises

Nasha Nkirote, a Class Six pupil at Little Lambs School in Eldoret, studies at home on September 17, 2020.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) says children’s continued stay at home is counterproductive.
  • Experts from these UN agencies caution that girls from disadvantaged backgrounds may be affected more by prolonged closure of schools.

The world’s top health agency now wants all schools to reopen. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says children’s continued stay at home is counterproductive.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebrey said the closure of learning institutions as a measure aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 should be “temporary and only at a local level in areas with intense transmission”.

The recommendation is part of guidelines issued by the WHO in conjunction with the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

“Shutting down educational facilities should only be considered when there are no other alternatives,” the guidelines read in part.

Experts from these UN agencies caution that girls from disadvantaged backgrounds may be affected more by prolonged closure of schools.

Control measures

This, the experts argue, could see a spike in cases of early marriages, teen pregnancies, female genital mutilation as well as physical, sexual, or emotional violence at home.

In areas with larger outbreaks of local transmission of Covid-19, as well as regions with sporadic or no cases, WHO recommends that schools should be reopened under Covid-19 prevention and control measures. The guidelines further say where there is cluster transmission, “most schools should be opened and should implement Covid-19 prevention and control measures”.

The guidelines, however clarify that authorities may consider “closing schools as part of broader public health and social measures in the areas experiencing an expansion in the number of clusters that includes schools”.

The WHO at the same time rooted for early detection of suspected cases, which, it says, should be tested and contacts traced and quarantined in communities where schools are reopening. The agency advises further investigation of clusters so as to implement and communicate “localised measures” like limiting gatherings and reducing mobility, among other public health and social measures.

Long-term effects

To keep vulnerable groups safe, the guidelines recommend that schools identify students and teachers at high risk of severe illness, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Statistics show only 8.5 per cent of all Covid-19 cases are among children, and only less than 0.2 per cent of patients under the age of 20 have died.

“Young children seem to have lower susceptibility to infection compared to adults, with susceptibility generally increasing with age,” states the WHO.

Nevertheless, Dr Tedros said the possible long-term effects of Covid-19 in children remains unknown and that those who have been infected have suffered in other ways.

BMutanu@ke.nationmedia.com