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2 in 5 schools globally lacked basic handwashing facilities before COVID-19: UNICEF, WHO

Friday, August 14, 2020, 18:00 GMT+7
2 in 5 schools globally lacked basic handwashing facilities before COVID-19: UNICEF, WHO
Primary school students wearing protective masks attend their first day of class after the government eased a nationwide social distancing during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam May 11, 2020. Photo: Reuters

As schools worldwide seek to put in place safety measures that allow them to reopen, the latest data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) reveals that 43 percent of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019 – a key condition for them to be able to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Global school closures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and well-being,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director.

“We must prioritize children’s learning. This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen – including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water, and safe sanitation.” 

In Vietnam, schools reopened in May with enhanced measures for the safety of students and teachers.

However, the lack of running water and other safe hygiene and sanitation measures in around 30 percent of schools at that time represented a risk for many children.

UNICEF has worked closely with the government and private sector partners to ensure essential supplies of soap, hand sanitizer, and ceramic water filters reached students in schools. 

“As the new school year approaches, the water and sanitation facilities must be in place to ensure proper hygiene for all students," said Rana Flowers, UNICEF representative in Vietnam.

"An urgent government funding allocation is needed, enabling the Ministry of Education and Training to ensure water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities are available and functioning in all schools.

"This is a critical moment to address and improve school safety, ensuring that if we went into the COVID-19 pandemic with poor hygiene facilities for our children, we emerge having addressed a significant public health achievement."

According to the report, around 818 million children lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools, which puts them at increased risk of COVID-19 and other transmittable diseases.

More than one third of these children (295 million) are from sub-Saharan Africa.

In the least developed countries, seven out of 10 schools are lacking in basic handwashing facilities and half of schools lack basic sanitation and water services.

The report stresses that governments seeking to control the spread of COVID-19 must balance the need for implementation of public health measures and the associated social and economic impacts of lockdown measures.

Evidence of the negative impacts of prolonged school closures on children’s safety, well-being, and learning is well-documented, the report says.

“Access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services is essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including schools," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

"It must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.”

Other key findings from the report include:

- Of the 818 million children who lacked a basic handwashing 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 handwashing.

- In the 60 countries at the highest risk of health and humanitarian crises due to COVID-19, three in four children were lacking in basic handwashing service at their school at the start of the outbreak; 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.

It builds on guidelines on the safe reopening of schools issued by UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and the World Bank with practical advice for national and local authorities on how to prepare for safe school reopening and keep children safe when they return to school.

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, handwashing stations with soap, and safe toilets.

Viet Toan / Tuoi Tre News

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