Intensify COVID-19 Prevention and Vaccination of Teachers and Pupils Health Experts Warn

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) Zimbabwe representative, Dr Alex Gasasira says there is need to support schools in ensuring they adhere to set COVID-19 prevention guidelines to avoid a spike in COVID-19 cases.

By Patricia Mashiri

The call comes hot on the heels of  the recent reopening of schools in the midst of concerns being raised by public health experts that the country could be headed for a catastrophic third wave in the midst of new COVID-19 strains.

In an interview with HealthTimes, Dr  Gasasira, said schools should be supported in implementing the WHO Covid-19 guidelines for school facilities to reduce the risk of the pandemic.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care with the support of several partners including UNICEF, UNESCO,WHO developed guidelines for all educational facilities to reduce risk of COVID-19 Transmission . All schools should be encouraged and supported to comply with these guidelines,” Dr Gasasira said.

According to data released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 1 billion children are at risk of falling behind due to school closures aimed at containing the spread of the Corona virus. It also noted that to keep the world’s children learning, countries have been implementing remote educational programmes.

Zimbabwe has to date received 600,000 doses of the vaccines from China and a total 37 660 frontline workers have been vaccinated with the hope that teachers, supporting stuff and pupils are next on the vaccination list.

Dr Norman Matara, the Secretary General for the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights(ZADHR) said teachers, supporting staff and Children need to be vaccinated against the virus as well.

“We need to vaccinate the teachers and all the other school staff so that they are protected from severe disease and hospitalization. We also need to have the government settle the standoff between the government and teachers because we saw that teachers did not report to school and there was no one to monitor children implementing COVID-19 prevention protocols. So we need teachers back at work so that they will be able the frontline workers who will implement the COVID-19 regulations in schools.

“We also want the government to support the school especially those in the rural areas with materials to prevent COVID-19 be it face masks, sanitizers, face masks and cleaning materials so that the schools will be able to use those to prevent themselves from the disease,” Dr Matara said.

Even though vaccines have been in the country for over a month now, there seem to be low uptake owing to resistance and hesitancy at the back numerous conspiracy theories.

Community Working Group on Health (CWGH)  Executive Director,  Mr Itai Rusike said schools can become COVID-19 hotspots and extra measures should be taken to control the spread of the COVID-19 within and outside the school premises.

“Now that the government has resolved to the re-opening of the schools, it is important that the re-opening is done when it is safe to do so. The government should exercise extreme caution in order o avoid similar situation that happened last year when schools became COVID-19 hotspots.

“The government must ensure that all the pre-conditions for the safe re-opening of schools, including vaccinations, provision of hygiene facilities, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),safe public transportation, infection prevention and control measures , preparation of physical spaces and social distancing consideration in one place,” Mr  Rusike said.

He added that the government should take into consideration the health and safety of school children, teachers, support staff and wider communities. He also highlighted that there was need to conduct COVID-19 Literacy Training to all teachers and non- teaching staff at least a week before the schools were re-opened.

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