As schools worldwide are thinking of reopening, the WHO and the UNICEF said that 43 per cent of schools around the world lacked access to basic hand washing with soap and water in 2019, a key condition for schools to be able to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report said that about 818 million children lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools. This put them at a higher risk of coronavirus and other transmittable diseases. It said that one third of these children (295 million) are from sub-Saharan Africa. The report notes that seven out of ten schools lack basic hand washing facilities and half of schools lack basic sanitation and water services.
Noting that school closures have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and wellbeing, UNICEF Executive Director said Henrietta Fore said that priority should be given to children’s education. “This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen – including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation,” she said.
Meanwhile, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that access to water, sanitation and hygiene services was essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including schools. “This must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic,” he said.
KEY FUINDINGS IN THE REPORT
- Of the 818 million children who lacked a basic hand washing service at their school, 355 million went to schools which had facilities with water but no soap, and 462 million to schools which had no facilities or water available for hand washing.
- In the 60 countries at highest risk of health and humanitarian crises because of coronavirus, 3 in 4 children lacked basic hand washing service at their school; half of all children lacked basic water service; and more than half lacked basic sanitation service.
- One in three schools worldwide had either limited drinking water service or no drinking water service at all.
- 698 million children lacked basic sanitation service at their school.
The report identifies several resources necessary for COVID-19 prevention and control in schools, including 10 immediate actions and safety checklists. The guidelines include several WASH-related protocols on hygiene measures, use of personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfection, as well as providing access to clean water, hand washing stations with soap, and safe toilets.