School reopening could prove disastrous – Health expert

Mthunthama primary school

A medical doctor has warned that reopening schools without improving the health sector could have disastrous effects and will be another gross injustice on the health sector.

The health expert Titus Divala issued the warning on Sunday following President Lazarus Chakwera’s announcement that schools which meet safety standards will be allowed to reopen early September.

Divala said considering the life-threatening nature of Covid-19, reopening schools should be informed by evidence that harms outweigh benefits.

Divala

He noted that the move to reopen schools could have huge repercussion including burdening the health sector as any activity that involves large gatherings nationwide would equal to large case volume to the health sector.

According to Divala, some of the measures needed in schools include reducing classroom capacity, reducing contact hours, open spacing teaching, making masks mandatory and requiring schools to have capacity to detect the disease, quarantine or isolate.

Divala wondered if schools will be able to implement these measure by early September.

“Are we going to make some fresh unscientific compromises as we have been doing for churches, pubs and markets? In my opinion, our true and final line of defence has always, and will remain the health system. It will therefore not just be extremely unwise and insensitive if the reopening of schools and other sections of the economy, without meaningfully strengthening the health sector. It will be another form of gross injustice that may also prove disastrous,” said Divala.

He, however, said schools and the economy can reopen on the premise that the epidemic is not very disastrous, and on condition that the government will minimise the remaining potential harms, by ensuring that the health system capacity is expanded.

On expanding the health sector, Divala mentioned the need to increase the health workforce by no less than one third, to expand Covid-19 surveillance systems to allow better monitoring and timely identification of outbreaks, and to expand Covid-19 treatment capacity starting with ensuring that there is at least one oxygen plant per central hospital.

He also called for community engagement that is detailed enough to allow robust local epidemic self-management.

Divala said most Coronavirus transmissions happen in communities and that is where government should invest transmission blocking interventions.

“Key to this, based on work from West Africa Ebola, is to ensure that community leaders learn all about the virus and its interventions. Next they should be allowed to prepare and implement their own community plans which for example would have clauses like: in our village, we will not allow anyone to walk around without a mask, or have a home without a hand wash station, or visit the elderly without observing strict measures. This level of community engagement, if implemented, will go a long way towards successful and safe school reopening,” he said.

Malawi has recorded 5072 Coronavirus cases including 161 deaths and 2626 deaths.

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