UNICEF Helping To Reopen Schools After Ebola Shutdown

As Australian children finally return to school after a long summer holiday, scenes which seem all too familiar are also playing out in Guinea with an extra special sense of excitement. Students in this West African nation are finally realising their right to education nearly half a year after the Ebola epidemic forced all schools in the country to shut their doors.

Training teachers and providing supplies

UNICEF and its partners are working hard to ensure that Ebola is kept out of the classroom. This means training teachers to adopt safety measures such as supplying hand washing kits and thermometers for schools as well as daily temperature screenings.

“The closure of schools has had a profound impact in a region with some of the lowest educational indicators in the world, and among children whose world has been turned upside down by Ebola. As schools reopen, it is critical that they be a protective environment where the risk of transmission of Ebola is reduced to a minimum, and knowledge contributes to halting the spread of the virus.” said Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF’s Global Emergency Coordinator for Ebola.

Millions of children deprived of month’s of education

In response to the outbreak of Ebola, public schools in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea all stayed closed following the traditional summer holiday months between July to August. The closure deprived as many as 5 million children month’s of education. It was only last week that public schools in Guinea officially reopened. UNICEF is working with communities and governments in Sierra Leone and Liberia to prepare for the eventual return of students in those countries as well.

Safety measures are being implemented

Safety measures that have been implemented include mandatory screening at the entrance of the school and barring anyone from the premises if they have a fever over 38° C.  students are barred if  they have had contact with a patient suffering from Ebola over the previous 21 days or are displaying at least three symptoms of the disease such as vomiting, diarrhoea and fever. These safety measures also provide guidelines that spell out how to deal with a patient suspected of suffering from Ebola through a referral system with the nearest health clinic.

The role of teachers is critical

Teachers play a vital role in spreading information whilst the schools remain closed and ensuring they are safe when the doors finally reopen. UNICEF has trained up thousands of teachers to help with equip parents, teachers, children and other members of the community with the knowledge they require to protect themselves from the virus and prevent further transmission of the disease.

Handing out hygiene kits and delivering safe water

UNICEF and its partners have also handed out thousands of hygiene kits to schools, which include buckets and soap. Because many schools in the countries that have been affected lack access to safe water, UNICEF is also helping to mobilise members of the community to deliver safe water to schools.

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