Against the background of on-going debates on the proper dates of resumption for schools across the country in the wake of the Ebola threat, stakeholders who spoke to BusinessDay consider the date issue inconsequential. They rather express concern that providing a lasting solution to poor water supply infrastructure and un-hygienic toilets in many public schools remain the most effective way of checking the spread of not only the Ebola Virus but other killer diseases like diarrhea.
Analysts are of the view that even with the Ebola scare, diarrhea remains the leading cause of death among children. UNICEF estimates that about 200,000 Nigerian children die yearly as a result of diarrhea. Experts say that 1 in 9 child deaths in the world is as a result of diarrhea which can be checked with provision of safe water, hygienic toilet habits and proper washing of hands.
In environments where basic water supply is un-reliable or not existent, it becomes difficult to maintain proper sanitation or check spread of diseases.
The recent directive by the Lagos state government on the connection of 600 public secondary schools to the grid of the state water corporation, though re-assuring, is being received with mixed feelings, as parents wonder that if not for the fear of Ebola these schools may have been left without water supply and their children and wards exposed to the health risks attendant with absence of water.
There is even more worry that even with this directive, how long will it take to make this massive connection?
One teacher who spoke to BusinessDay but chose to remain anonymous, says that the secondary school where she teaches is lucky to have a borehole but many are not, and those ones make do with environments that are akin to “poultry farms”.
For Walter Afolabi, a concerned parent, “the fact that Lagos State government has promised to link 600 public school with water does not solve the huge problem. What happens to other neighbouring states? Don’t forget, whatever happens to other states will bounce back to Lagos”
Another parent Obiageri Ezikoha, says she is “surprised that government at all levels waited for the incident of Ebola before they realised that they needed to provide t sanitary facilities required by public schools.
This is a necessary step government should have taken while they were setting up both secondary and primary schools. Obiageri notes that “government doesn’t have to wait till Ebola comes before they provide toilet facility for public schools or fix the already dilapidated ones.
BusinessDay investigations reveal that a good number of pupils and students in many public schools practice open defecation in nearby bushes, gutters or canals, as hygienic toilet spaces are rare and water provision for proper sanitation is not available.
It is estimated that over 30 million Nigerians still practice open defecation, and Nigeria is on the notorious list of countries still with such unhealthy habit.
With high open defecation around school environments, and poor water supply, the risk of Ebola infection may be high, considering that contact with body fluids and human waste are easy ways of spreading Ebola and other killer contagious diseases.