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Govt defers school reopening until further notice

THE re-opening of schools countrywide has been deferred until further notice.

Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya said during a joint press briefing in Lusaka this evening that his ministry and the Ministry of General Education would only review the matter on January 30, 2018.

“As you are aware, we have had an outbreak of cholera from October 6, 2017 and it has affected mainly Lusaka Province and we have recorded sporadic cases in various parts of the country. As of today cumulatively, we have recorded a total of 2047 cases and Lusaka alone is accounting for 2000 cases. Cumulatively, we have recorded 50 deaths, with Lusaka accounting for 47 deaths. We have mounted a robust multi-sectorial approach involving various sectors and today we are holding a joint press briefing with one of the key sectors in the multi-sectorial response; that is the Ministry of Education and hence the presence of the Minister of General Education who at the same time is acting as Minister of Higher Education,” Dr Chilufya said.

“As part of the escalation of the response, I did issue Statutory Instrument N0. 79 of 2017 which evoked certain provisions of the Public Health Act to ensure that we spread of the outbreak and also prevent loss of life. This has also escalated the multi-sectorial response and in line with the presidential directive, we are strengthening our inter-sectorial collaboration. Today, we are discussing a key subject that is, the re-opening of schools at primary, secondary and tertiary level. So, we gather here today to make an announcement that the re-opening of schools at primary to tertiary level is being deferred countrywide country wide in order for us to monitor the evolution of the epidemic and we will review this decision on January 30, 2018.”

He said deferring the re-opening of the schools countrywide was to avoid many gatherings in various educational facilities.

“Remember that there are children who are coming from areas which we are describing as the epicentres of the epidemic and they will be mixing with children from other areas. There may be cross contamination and that may escalate the epidemic. There are also children that will be coming from the epicentres in Lusaka who may need to travel to boarding schools outside Lusaka to various parts of the country. So, we will suddenly be having a possibility of carriers and this disease will spread in various parts of the country and will spiral out of control,” Dr Chilufya said.

“In line with the Statutory Instrument, we are restricting this particular movement. We do not want school children to move outside the epicentres to various schools where they will co-mingle with other children. Or move out of Lusaka to other parts of the country so that we start fire fighting in different parts of the country. So, this is an important measure and will apply to all schools nationally and we will be able to review this decision by January 30, 2018. This period will allow us to work with the authorities in the schools to look at water and sanitation facilities, correct them where need be and so there is a task force that is working to ensure that water facilities, sanitation facilities in the schools is in good shape.”

He said his ministry would broadcast key messages to raise awareness to improve personal hygiene by school children before schools re-opened.

Dr Chilufya also said his ministry would further vaccinate all citizens in affected areas particularly school going children.

“This will help reduce the spread of the disease. We are targeting to begin vaccination within the next seven to 10 days and we are going to vaccinate an initial number of two million people and we hope to reach four million. This will give us an opportunity to continue correcting the issue of access to clean and safe water. Let’s be mindful that the drivers of this epidemic include consumption of contaminated water and food, poor waste management, and poor personal hygiene practices. These must be addressed,” said Dr Chilufya.

And general education minister Dennis Wanchinga said postponing the re-opening of schools due to the cholera outbreak was an important decision to make.

“In this country, we have about four million children who are going to school. These are in primary and secondary institutions. But these children are scattered in 8, 824 primary schools, 8071 secondary schools and a large number of community schools. At tertiary level, we have about 53 institutions that call themselves universities and we have a lot of children who are going to these universities. We should also be mindful that many of these institutions are in rural areas and some of them are very far from health centres. So, if you have an outbreak of cholera in a school…remote school, it means then that you have created a very big problem because what it means is that those children will have very little opportunity to have specialist treatment,” said Dr Wachinga.

“Even when you go to that school and close it, you will actually be spreading the disease because they will go to their families and spread the infection there. So, it is a very important decision that we postpone the re-opening of schools and tertiary institutions. As a ministry, we shall remain in touch with our colleagues at the ministry of health and we shall wait for their advice when we can re-open.”

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