WHO, UNICEF Urge Reopening of Schools in Africa

ADDIS ABEBA – Two United Nations agencies have urged African governments to promote the safe reopening of schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

A WHO survey of 39 countries in sub-Saharan Africa found that schools are fully open in only six countries.

They are closed in 14 countries and partially open (exam classes) in 19 others.

Around a dozen countries are planning to resume classroom learning in September, which is the start of the academic year in some countries.

The prolonged closure of schools is harmful to students and want governments to invest in sanitation facilities to prevent the spread of coronavirus in learning institutions, say Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF).

The two organizations said students are being exposed to poor nutrition, teenage pregnancies and violence during this extended stay-at-home period.

Schools “provide a safe haven for many children in challenging circumstances to develop and thrive,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“We must not be blind-sided by our efforts to contain COVID-19 and end up with a lost generation,” she said. “Just as countries are opening businesses safely, we can reopen schools.”

The long closure of schools poses a risk to the future of children and their communities, according to UNICEF.

“The long-term impact of extending the school shutdown risks ever greater harm to children, their future and their communities,” Mohamed Malick Fall UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern & Southern Africa, said. “When we balance the harm being done to children locked out of schools, and if we follow the evidence, it leads children back into the classroom.”