Case for re-opening schools in Uganda

Thursday July 9 2020

 

By Dr Patrick Okello

To Uganda’s scientists, including Health minister, Dr Ruth Aceng, the basis for re-opening schools has been well elaborated by several education experts both from in and outside Uganda.

Also we now have the benefit of the experience of European countries that reopened their schools in the last two months. Most importantly, history has shown us that Covid-19 like any other disease, society must eventually learn to live with it.

We do more harm by being too risk averse to re-opening schools. We are now on the verge of grounding our already fragile education system by not reopening our institutions of learning. The cost is simply too much to imagine and to bear for our country to see our children dropping out of school, resorting to child marriages, getting defiled, raped, etc.

We risk losing all businesses that support education. The risk to the health of children under 19 years is now known to be extremely low to the extent that even if they were to be infected by coronavirus, the infection would be very mild. Moreover the lessons from our own nearly 1,000 Covid-19 cases shows a patient can recover from the illness.

Therefore, government should reopen our schools. We cannot wait for Covid-19 vaccine to be found before we open can open schools.

Uganda’s standing in the world means that the science, economy, and politics of finding a vaccine in the next 24 months is almost nil. Besides, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated that the use of masks in all places where social distancing is not possible provide excellent protection from Covid-19.

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The President promised that Ugandans would receive masks from June 10, but almost a month later, I am not sure how many people have received the masks. Therefore, it is important that government expedites distribution of these masks and make wearing them mandatory in all public places.

Allow learners to return to school in phases - first, candidate classes and universities. Then after every two weeks, allow an additional class return to class . Scientists should learn to think outside the box.

To overcome Uganda’s limitation in testing , we can adopt the pooled testing approach where samples are collected in batches from people in one locality, from example, a village or a school. The samples are then pooled and tested as one.

Depending on the results, if the pooled sample is positive, then you do individual testing. However, because we know that the disease is not widespread, the majority of the pooled samples will be negative.

This way, we are able to increase our testing from about 3,000 daily to almost one million samples each day, using the same testing capacity. On the other hand, while the idea of learning through radio and TV is being promoted, the challenges probably outweigh the benefits.

Dr Patrick Okello
drpokello@gmail.com

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