• Friday, March 01, 2024
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Ebola and concerns over schools’ resumption

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Before now, fewer Nigerians heard of Ebola virus, not to talk of what it represents. Those who have heard of it, probably, did so through occasional media reports which are often considered trivial. All this was, however, to radically change. No thanks to an ill fated flight from Liberia that had on board a Liberian –American, Patrick Sawyer. With Calabar as his actual destination, Sawyer, however, had to make a stop- over in Lagos when he suddenly developed what was initially thought to be fever. Further diagnosis eventually revealed that Sawyer had contacted the dreaded Ebola virus. It was not, however, long that the man died of the now dreaded Ebola virus. Thus, began a series of awful events that have since thrown the country into a frenzy of palpable fears and tension.

It was the grievous implication of this revelation on the country that made the country’s President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, at a public forum, to describe the late Sawyer as a crazy man. Behind the utterance of the President, of course, lies the magnitude of the huge burden which the nation has had to bear since the Ebola virus found its way into the country via the late Sawyer.    

Part of the nation’s Ebola burden is the on -going debate over the appropriate time for our children to return to school for the 2014/2015 academic session. It will be recalled that the Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, recently announced the postponement of resumption date for primary and secondary schools to October 22 as part of measures to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the country. Most stakeholders expressed widespread support for the decision of the Federal Government, FG, which they believe is in the overall interest of all.

However, having reviewed the Ebola situation and satisfied with progress so far made in containing the disease, the FG recently announced the shifting of the resumption date of schools backward to September 22nd.  The way things are, opinions are sharply divided among stakeholders on the appropriateness or otherwise of this new date. For instance, the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, has rejected the Monday September 22nd resumption directive.  According to the National Publicity Secretary of the body, Dr Olawunmi Layaki, NMA expect all schools to remain closed until December or early next year when all Ebola suspects under surveillance have been cleared and certified free of the virus. It is the conviction of NMA that schools should be shut till the last suspected case or patient is certified free of the virus. The NMA is of the view that schools owners, parents and guardians should not be in a hurry for schools to resume because of the danger the spread of the disease into a school could pose to the country. The basis of this point of view is that children cannot survive isolation and other related issues like the adults.

The Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, as well as the Trade Union Congress, TUC, tends to support NMA’s stand on the issue. The NUT has threatened to go on strike if the FG fails to put in place measures to protect its members and pupils from contracting the deadly Ebola Virus Disease before the   resumption of schools. On its part, the TUC wants the FG to disregard supposed pressure from private school owners on the issue. Concerned parents and guardians have also called for cautions over the issue.

The World Health Organisation, WHO, and the Lagos State Government have equally cautioned the FG against the September 22 resumption date. Both WHO and the Lagos government want the FG to review the resumption date for the public and private schools in the country until the scourge of the virus is properly dealt with. While admitting that the number of Ebola Virus cases has reduced in the country, the country’s WHO Representative, Mr. Rui Van Gaz, still cautioned that it is safer to avoid any form of complacency until the last case is over and surveillance completed to ensure that no other potential case comes up.

It is pertinent, at this juncture, to state that the FG, Lagos and Rivers governments as well as other stakeholders have so far done well in containing the deadly Ebola virus. Indeed, the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, deserves special commendation for the way he has provided the required leadership in the nation’s battle to contain Ebola. Through his actions, we could actually express optimism that all hope is not lost concerning the future of this country.

However, the Honourable Minister needs to tread cautiously on the issue of schools’ resumption. For one, it is common knowledge that it takes a longer time for children to exactly understand what Ebola actually represents. Also, it might equally take more time for them to get used to all safety measures put in place to combat the disease. Equally, children tend to be more vulnerable because they would play with each other whether they are sick or not. How many children, especially those in crèche and nursery classes, would understand the need to use hand sanitizers or avoid contact with anybody that has fever? Consequently, it is safer to wait till October when the situations across the country would have been decisively handled.

Considering the ruthlessness of the disease (remember we are talking about Ebola here not headache or typhoid!) and the manner with which it spreads, it would be unsafe to expose children to avoidable risks. If medical doctors, with all their professional skill and knowledge could become easily susceptible to the Ebola virus, then vulnerable children and their teachers stand no chance, God forbid, in the event of an Ebola outbreak in any school.

What the FG, state governments across the country and other stakeholders should consider uppermost, at this moment, is how to ensure that schools across the country comply with all required precautionary measures that would ensure effective fortification of children, teachers and others against the dreaded disease. Until we are sure that a reasonable level of compliance has been attained, the issue of schools’ resumption should be put on hold.

In as much as one sympathizes with stakeholders in the education sector, especially private schools owners, for obvious reasons, the issue at stake goes beyond narcissistic and emotional considerations. One has heard arguments such as churches, mosques and other sectors are not being regulated as being done to schools in the fight against Ebola, but this is a mere sentimental contemplation . Against the background of the dreadfulness of the Ebola virus, sentimental concerns would serve little purpose. The chief concern of everyone now, should be what is good for all and not self-seeking interests.     

Consequently, it is vital that the federal ministries of health and education covey a meeting of all stakeholders in order to arrive at a common ground on the subject. The issue on ground transcends who is right or wrong. It is more about what is right.

Tayo Ogunbiyi