Handwashing and giving out soap in schools in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have helped to keep classrooms Ebola-free this year but schools need to remain vigilant after the summer holidays, the U.N. children’s agency said on Wednesday.
UNICEF said there had been no reported cases of students or teachers contracting Ebola at a school this year in the three worst-hit countries in West Africa, where the virus has killed nearly 11,300 people since the outbreak began in late 2013.
In Liberia, where there have been as many as 4,800 deaths, two schools were decontaminated as a precaution after one student died in June and another became infected in July. But Geoff Wiffin, UNICEF representative in Sierra Leone, said a major drive to make schools safe from Ebola appeared to have paid off, with students not only safe at school but also taking home the message on how to protect oneself against Ebola.
Hygiene precautions included taking the temperature of students and staff at the school gate, installing hand washing stations, and distributing chlorine and millions of soap bars. “Children learned in school how to protect themselves and others from Ebola, and they passed on those messages to their parents and their communities.
This played an important role in the battle against the epidemic,” Wiffin said in a statement. The World Health Organization said earlier this month that there had been only six cases of Ebola in Liberia in recent months, and only two deaths, putting the goal of ending the deadly epidemic by the end of the year within reach. Schools in the three countries were disrupted due to the haemorrhagic disease, and an estimated five million children were unable to attend school from July 2014 until early 2015.
UNICEF said these countries had poor education records prior to the West African Ebola epidemic – by far the largest ever seen. Only 34 percent of children attended primary school in Liberia, 58 percent in Guinea and 74 percent in Sierra Leone.
The U.N. agency stressed that maintaining safe hygiene practices and standards would be important in protecting children from Ebola and other illnesses. “Major investments are needed to ensure that schools have basic water and sanitation infrastructure,” Sheldon Yett, UNICEF representative in Liberia, said in a statement.