“If Ebola hits schools” my friend said, “this country will die. Will children stop playing with each other, or parents stop hugging their children?”
My friend is not a doctor, so the medical accuracy in her assertion may not be 100%, but she is a parent who has decided that her daughter will not be going back to school on the 22nd of September. And she is not the only one. Many other parents have expressed concern at the government’s hurry (or caving under pressure from private school proprietors) to bring back resumption of school by 3 weeks. This is especially puzzling, coming at a time when the WHO has raised the alarm that the window for containing the virus across is West Africa is closing, and the number of confirmed cases across the country recently rising to 19.
When Mr. Index Case, Patrick Sawyer, came over from Liberia with his deadly cargo about 50 days ago, the consensus amongst parents was that it was a most fortunate, almost divinely ordained thing that schools we’re already on vacation at the time. The government deserves every commendation too, that we’re discussing only 19 and not the several hundreds of cases that have been confirmed in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. However, we are clearly not yet in the clear.
The Nigerian Medical Association, from whom the government really ought to be taking guidance on this issue, has rejected the September 22 resumption date. Hear them –
“We are not happy with this decision on the resumption of schools. Schools should be shut till the last suspected case or patient is certified free of the virus… We can shift the resumption date till next year or in the next three months if that is the time it will take. Government should have enough time to follow the standard procedure for containing the virus. Parents have no reason to be in a hurry because if Ebola should enter any school, it will assume another dimension. Children cannot survive isolation like adults.”
You can see that my friend was not too far off in her assessment if the NMA agrees with her. The Lagos State House of Representatives has also indicated that it will review the proposed resumption date. Instructively, that last-referenced piece describes how “private school owners had vehemently opposed the [October 13] resumption date, compelling the Federal Ministry of Education to bring forward the date for schools to reopen to September 22, after a meeting with stakeholders in the sector.”
One can see how the disruption is unfavourable to private school owners. They need to continue to pay their staff full salaries, but most parents were unlikely to agree to pay a full term’s fees for only a half-term’s tuition, going by the previous October 13th date. There is also the prospect of losing out on projected income completely if schools are shut indefinitely as the NMA has recommended. Furthermore, one branch of the national association of private school owners has suggested that if tertiary institutions, churches and mosques, etc., were not closed, then there is no reason for primary and secondary schools to stay shut.
However, kids cannot be trusted with their own hygiene and with 2 school-going children of my own, I have come to know a thing or two about in-school cross-infections. During term time, there’s always a cough or cold going around. My kids have been home for 3 months or so and have been sniffle-free the entire time. When you remember again that a lot of these schools also run daycare services, and that babies are constantly drooling, barfing and pooping, you kind of want to be really sure that there’s no chance of the virus embedding itself in all those bodily discharges.
In the meantime, another infection has been confirmed in Lagos, with the situation in Rivers State seemingly still in a state of flux. A new case has also been reported at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife. So the virus is still very much with us and amongst us, and I’ve read that Nigeria also runs the risk of being seen an El Dorado of sorts by our siblings further west; that they’ll flock here to be nursed back to health or to be safe.
I’m for erring on the side of caution. I would rather schools were shut until January, if need be, for the assurance that our children will be safe.