Coronavirus is still lurking around like an eagle ready to take a swoop on unsuspecting chicks; hygiene and sanitation are key measures to curb the virus, but it remains to be seen whether institutions of learning will heed to the uphill task.
Depending on resource capacity and tradition, there’s proof that most institutions across the country have for long maintained the basic minimum requirements of hygiene and sanitation.
However, despite efforts, just like any public place, the status of hygiene and sanitation in Ugandan schools has always been up for debate. Talk about over crowding in Universal Primary and Secondary Education schools; poorly aerated and spaced dormitories; or the whispers about infections students acquire through sharing hygiene facilities such as toilets, beds, basins and bathrooms. Many unhealthy habits in schools crop up either because of a lax in rules or student’s unruly behaviour. Infections
Mr Emmanuel Mulondo, a parent shares how his healthy daughter at one time acquired an infection at her former primary school.
He says the school denied any wrong doing insisting she could have got the infection from home.
However, further investigations by health workers revealed that the student acquired the infection from the school toilets which were shared by other students- an indication that perhaps the seats were not clean enough and or there were students with such infections in the school.
“One child brought the infection but it spread out to most of the girls in the boarding section,” Mulondo recalls, “When parents found out that the problem was in the school, we made noise and the school changed the toilets.”
Mulondo says hygiene for students remains important.
Betty Nalumansi, a teacher at Kitante Hill Secondary School in Kololo says the whole idea of a student maintaining good hygiene starts from home. Whereas schools try to implement hygiene and sanitation policies; some students cannot follow the rule book.
There are a number of unhygienic practices by students that go unnoticed below the radar of the school rules, according to Nalumansi. She mentions that these may include; students who rarely wash their uniforms; sharing of drinks such as sodas or juice as well as utensils such as plates and cups.
“When it comes to lunch, some students donot wash their plates with soap but will only rinse them,” she says, adding that incase one student doesn’t carry a plate, they usually borrow the same plate used by a colleague.
Nalumansi says personal hygiene for students remains a matter of concern in such times.
“We still have cases of students not bathing and washing uniforms,” she says, “You enter a classroom and there’s a stench from one corner. Even, when we (teachers) check students’ bags, we find them dirty!” Meanwhile, some students also share sweaters and uniforms.
What about social distancing?
Government introduced the social distancing guideline as a way to avoid spread of the virus through air. However, this remains practically impossible in most Ugandan schools. This is largely because lack of enough structures to implement the rule.
Sr Hellen Lamunu, the headteacher at Sacred Heart Girls School in Gulu District says this also remains a threat to schools.
Lamunu says the the social distancing measure may not work especially in USE and UPE schools because they are already congested.
“Staying at home is the best option since its difficult to control students. If adults are getting arrested during lockdown, what about students who are already difficult to control?” she remarks.
Nalumansi also shares a similar view with Lamunu but also offers a solution.
“Overcrowding seems to be unavoidable since students numbers can be overwhelming but this can also be regulated. There should be a regulation on how big a room should be basing on the maximum number of students in that room.”
The practice of sharing beds in dormitories especially due to overcrowding is slowly fading away as government zeroes down on schools to avoid unhealthy habits but Nalumansi says some schools are still practicing bed sharing.
Sr Lamunu explains that the most worrying trend in spread of coronavirus is especially for schools that have become quanrantine centres.
“Some parents may fear to take their children back to such schools. They may talk of disinfecting the schools but parents will need to be convinced.” she adds.
Ann Kukundakwe, a parent and health expert warns parents and schools to exercise caution as students go back to school. With some students having been directly affected by Covid-19, the health expert says these will definitely require different attention to settle in.
“Apart from screening, affected students require psychosocial support for them to be able to cope because that comes with a lot of stigma considering one of the measures is social distancing,” she says
“If other learners realise that a student was directly affected by Covid-19, they will definitely discriminate them,” she points out.
Kukundakwe expresses worry over already existing health challenges in schools which remain undealt with yet the School Health Policy has been a draft for the last 18 years.
Kukundakwe suggests that there’s need for proper screening of students but that should also be done with consent from parents or under a government directive.
Identifying and mapping out students that have been directly affected by the pandemic should be done and and psychosocial support given.
She says students with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy or sickle cells should be linked with service care providers to get the necessary help.
According to Mulondo, senior women in schools should play a major role during such times. Sr Lamunu has also instituted key measures in her school to avoid any surface contact. Since closure of the school; all teachers in need of preparing lesson plans have been barred from access; classrooms are guarded by police while unauthorised movements are prohibited.
Ministry of Health guidelines
According to a statement on Covid-19 preventive measures for schools from Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director of General Health Services at Ministry of Health, schools should inform students about coronavirus and regularly update and remind them of the signs and symptoms and the preventive measures.
This should include providing facts about what happened, explain what is going on, and give them clear information on how to reduce the risk of being infected.
Furthermore, Dr Mwebesa advises that there should be provision of hand washing facilities with running water and soap in the school compound and outside the toilets. Overcrowding and in classes and dormitories should be avoided and reduced.
“Frequently clean and disinfect the school environment, including classes, dormitories, and commonly touched surfaces such as door knobs, handles and walls,” the statement reads in part.
Other measures for schools from the Health Ministry include: Discouraging spitting in public places; encouraging students to ask questions on coronavirus and other disease outbreaks in the presence of a well-informed worker; provide a separate facility for the sick to prevent infection with a full time medical personnel.
Encourage good habits among students
When students have strong cleanliness and sanitation habits, you can more easily maintain a healthy school.
Teachers should talk with their students regularly about the importance of keeping the school clean. Once cleanliness becomes second nature to the student body, your cleaning problems are much easier to deal with.
Teachers and administrators must ensure that every student realizes the dangers of germs spreading disease throughout the student body due to poor hygiene. Encourage students to wash their hands at regular intervals throughout the day, such as after lunch or recess. Instruct students on proper hand-washing techniques, such as always using soap.
One area of any school that tends to get messy is the lunchroom. Make sure that students understand the importance of not leaving any food scraps on their tables when they finish eating. Emphasize the importance of keeping the school and the school grounds litter-free. Encourage students to throw any litter they see into the trash.
Compiled from www.janitorialservicesatlanta.com