At a time when cases of coronavirus are increasing across the world at a brisk pace and countries are considering opening of schools, an eye opening report from WHO and UNICEF has revealed that 43 per cent of schools around the world lacked access to basic hand washing with soap and water in 2019 – a key condition for schools to be able to operate safely in the midst of the Covid pandemic.
Also, of the 818 million children who lacked a basic hand washing 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 hand washing.
The report further reveals that in the 60 countries at highest risk of health and humanitarian crises due to Covid-19, three in four children lacked basic hand washing service at their school at the start of the outbreak while half of all children lacked basic water service and more than half lacked basic sanitation service.
According to the report, 1 in 3 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.
“Global school closures since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and wellbeing,” 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,” she added.
According to the report, around 818 million children lack basic hand washing 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, 7 out of 10 schools lack 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 versus the associated social and economic impacts of lockdown measures. Evidence of the negative impacts of prolonged school closures on children’s safety, wellbeing and learning are 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,” added Dr Tedros.