Millions of School Children risk contracting COVID-19 when School Re-opens – WaterAid Cautions

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WaterAid Ghana, an international Non-Governmental Organisation has revealed that millions of school children risk contracting COVID-19 if issues of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) services in schools are not properly addressed before school re-opens.

According to WaterAid Ghana without sustainable WASH services to enable the practice of good hygiene such as handwashing, which is a basic defense against the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) will elude millions of Ghanaian children in schools because about 15,500 (62%) of public basic schools do not have water for regular hand washing.

This revelation was contained in a Press Statement issued in Accra.

Throwing more light on the revelation in an interview with this reporter, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at WaterAid Ghana, Mr. George Cobbinah Yorke explained that WASH in schools is more critical now than before due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Children need to be supported to regularly wash their hands and follow all the COVID-19 protocols when they go back to school.

However, without WASH facilities it will be extremely challenging for school authorities to enforce regular and proper hand washing.” He said.

For this reason, the Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at WaterAid Ghana appealed to the Government through the Ministry of Education to ensure that every basic school in the country has access to basic WASH infrastructure that will support hand hygiene and menstrual hygiene management for girls during menstruation.

This he noted will provide a healthy environment for teaching and learning and further increase the safety of pupils and school staff against COVID-19.

According to WaterAid Ghana a study conducted by UNICEF in 2018, Examining School-Based Hygiene Facilities, in 127 Schools across the country showed a facility deficiency.

From the UNICEF report, 33% of schools had students washing their hands in a shared receptacle (bowl), 24% had students using a single cotton towel to dry hands after handwashing, and only 16% of schools had a functional water facility.

The report further revealed that 83% of schools which had functional water facilities also had functional handwashing stations.

This situation WaterAid believes will expose most children to the risk of COVID-19 infection when schools are eventually re-opened.

UNICEF estimates that 36% of primary schools and 29% of pre-primary schools have either no sanitation facility or an unimproved facility on site.

For water supply services, 31% of primary schools and 28% of pre-primary schools have either no water facilities or an unimproved facility.

The effect of this on health and learning outcomes in schools cannot be underestimated.

Another survey conducted by the Education Management Information System (EMIS) in 2018, reported that 30% (about 7500) of public basic schools do not have toilets.

About 1-in-2 public schools (49%) do not have access to improved water supply services.

Almost two-in-five children in Ghana (44%) attend schools without toilets, and three out of every five (62%) attend schools without water supply.

WaterAid Ghana is therefore calling on the Government, Ministry of Education, political parties, civil society organizations, private sector, philanthropists, and other stakeholders to consider prioritizing WASH facilities and services in schools towards re-opening of schools in the country.

“As we call for the Government to prioritise WASH in Schools in the 2021 budget statement, we also expect Political parties to recognize WASH in schools as a development issue in their 2020 general election campaign manifestos.” The statement reiterated.

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