At Little Angels Primary School, Ntungamo, it is mandatory that parents fill registration forms before bringing their children to school. On the registration form, is a section that requires parents to fill in a child’s medical history, and unless they do so, the child is denied admission to the school.
In his experience for the last 10 years, the head teacher of the school, Alfred Niwagaba says he has learnt that many parents are ignorant of their children’s health conditions. This, he says complicates work for teachers, especially when the child falls ill while at school.
Even in cases where parents might be aware of illnesses that their children may have, Niwagaba says they find it difficult to share it with the school administration.
Niwagaba says it can be helpful if they are informed of any pre-existing health conditions that a child may have, as it may be easy to offer help if the child falls sick abruptly, while at school, and in the absence of their parents.
For example, he explains that when a child is autistic, other children tend to harass them because of the development disorder they go through which is characterised by impaired communication and emotional detachment. As a result, such children are resented and end up hating school, yet they could be helped to cope if teachers know how to deal with their conditions.
Niwagaba however warns of children who fake sickness in order to avoid going to school.
“Parents should take time to know their children because sometimes signs take long to show. We encourage them to always be open to schools about their children’s conditions. They need to respect the teacher’s advice since they are the ones who spend more time with the children,” explains Niwagaba.
Ignorance by parents
“Some parents are ignorant of illnesses that their children may have while others assume since the children are young, they cannot contract certain diseases,” says Niwagaba.
Frances Atima, the acting principal inspector in the Directorate of Education Standards, said they have put in place several measures to ensure children do not contract illnesses while at school and those who may have pre-existing conditions are managed well. “We have standards for school matrons, nurses and cooks. They should be tested every six months so that they do not transmit any communicable disease that they may have to children,” Atima says.
Dr Allan Twesigomwe, a medical practitioner at Mitooma Health Centre IV says asthma is the most common illness that children experience in schools.
For instance, he explains that if a child reacts to cold weather, they should be given many warm clothings, especially for children who are in boarding schools.
Dr Daniel Nkaada, the commissioner in charge of primary education at the ministry of health encourages parents to open up to school administrators so that when their children get an attack, they can easily be assisted with the help of the school nurse.
“All diseases that you think of are in our schools. But parents need to know that they can be helped if they open up to the school administrators about the illnesses that their children may have. They should not treat it as a taboo because anyone can fall sick,” Dr Nkaada says.
Dr Twesigomwe says other diseases that are becoming common among children include type 1 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.
Many of these are related to changing lifestyles.