Nigeria schools to use early detection and reporting system to safeguard against covid-19
By Onche Odeh
The government of Nigeria has launched an initiative that rides on early detection and reporting to make schools in the country safer against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
The initiative, which is being led by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) through the country’s Federal Ministry of Education with funding supports from Global Parrnership for Education (GPE) is to facilitate continuous learning through alternate home-based platforms that would also ensure that children are able to recoup the learning time lost due to the pandemic.
In 2020 no fewer than 171 countries of the world including Nigeria were forced to close schools for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This caused more than 1.5 billion students to stay out of school globally. In Nigeria, the effect was most debilitating, as most schools still rely on the traditional face-to-face teaching method.
The GPE through UNICEF has earmarked USD 13.8 million to be spent on various activities between June 2020 and November 2021 to ensure that schools in Nigeria and the people that interact with them are safe from COVID-19. For a start, not less than 12 million children and 30,500 teachers in 43,000 schools would benefit from the programme to be piloted in 32 focal Local Government Authorities across 16 states of the federation.
The first leg of the programme, which intends to create effective surveillance and reporting systems across all schools in the country, was kick started in the first week of April with Cluster Mobilization and Sensitization meetings of key officials of government and other institutions in Enugu, Bauchi and Kano. This is to acquaint them on COVID-19 protocol, surveillance and school readiness.
Biodun Ogunbiyi, Consultant Epidemiologist with the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) who gave the meeting some perspectives on what to expect with the new strategies to curb COVID-19 spread in schools said the immediate step would be for schools to establish school health team as platforms to promote adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols within the school premises.
Through the support of the school, the team is expected to facilitate the establishment of hand hygiene facilities at the entrance of schools, ensure that classrooms, staffrooms and dormitories are cross ventilated and encourage people within the school environment to maintain safe physical distancing.
“Yes a lot may have been spoken of with regards to COVID-19. However, there is still so much more to be done in terms of sensitization and mobilization of the people to adhere to safety protocols. The school system provides a huge opportunity for us to do this, which is why this meeting and training is very important,” Ogunbiyi said.
Speaking on the relevance of the initiative, he said, “A lot of events regarding COVID-19 happen unnoticed because of the lack of a reporting system at the community level. Through the school health team, a good reporting and surveillance system for COVID-19 would be established. This will help speed up control of the pandemic, beginning from the schools.”
Ogunbiyi also called for the establishment of holding areas within school premises where people with suspected cases of COVID-19 would be kept for proper handling and follow ups.
As a prelude to this, he said, “Members of staff and the health team must be taught how to identify and report suspected cases and how to handle confirmed cases to avoid spill over and victimization of the people involved. This is part of the knowledge we are imparting on the participants.”
Through the Federal Ministry of Education, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), States Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEB), States Ministries of Education, UNICEF, NERDC, Technical Agencies, and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the initiative would help in contextualizing appropriate alternate learning materials available to pupils, teachers and schools, digitalisation of curriculum and instructional materials, as well as the development of ICT based infrastructures and capacity within the system for deployment of technology in teaching and monitoring of the learning progress put in place.
Meanwhile, UNICEF has said it would be conducting field monitoring of the programme to ascertain the level of adoption in the pilot locations.
“Will be monitoring to see how the knowledge acquired during the cluster meetings are being replicated at the school and community levels. A team of monitors would be going round the states to determine the extent of adoption and effectiveness of the methods used in ensuring safety against COVID-19,” UNICEF Education Specialist, Dr Agatha Nzeribe Nzeribe said.
Some of the participants at the meetings are already speaking about what they would across their respective locations.
Saidu Baba Usman, Principal at Government Science Secondary School, (GSSS), Lafia, Nasrawa, who said the meeting unveiled so many interesting perspective that helped debunked some of the myths surrounding COVID-19 in Nasarawa State said he is now better equipped to take the lead in the fight to curb the pandemic through the school system.
“Before now, our people never believed there was anything like COVID-19 so they hardly would use the face mask. Then came the myth about the vaccine which they said was intended to reduce their ability to make more children. All these have been debunked here,” Usman said.
He also affirmed that he would strengthen all forms of reporting systems and communication to check transmission of COVID-19 within the school.
The strategies being put in place across the pilot states include mobilization and reorientation of SBMC and stakeholders like Principals, teachers, students, parents, PTAs on hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and other methods for the prevention and transmission of COVID- 19 with the intention of reaching two million children through the media and other communication platforms.
This, the organisers of the workshop said would be achieved through the use of disinfection equipment for schools to ensure safe reopening of schools, while it activates the Campaign for the return of students back to school.