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Reopening The World's Schools Post-COVID; The WASH Challenge

NEW YORK NY, United States

43 Percent of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019, casting some doubt on the safety of operations during and post-COVID pandemic.

A 13 August report from the Joint Monitoring Programme of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF presents updated national, regional and global estimates for Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) in schools up to the year 2019, with a special focus on the implications for ensuring the safety of students and school staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Global school closures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and wellbeing,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, in a press release. “We must prioritize children’s learning. This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen – including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation.”

An estimated 818 million children lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools, which puts them at increased risk of COVID-19 and other transmittable diseases. An estimated 295 million children are from sub-Saharan Africa. In the least developed countries, 7 out of 10 schools lack basic handwashing facilities and half of schools lack basic sanitation and water services.

Evidence of the negative impacts of prolonged school closures on children’s wellbeing and learning are well documented. However, the report calls on governments to balance the implementation of crucial public health measures against the well-recognised social and economic impacts of continued lockdown measures.

“Access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including schools," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "It must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.”

The report from the Joint Monitoring Programme identifies resources necessary for COVID-19 prevention and control in schools and includes 10 immediate actions and safety checklists. The information builds on guidelines already suggested by UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and the World Bank. The guidelines include several WASH-related protocols on hygiene measures, use of personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfection, as well as providing access to clean water, handwashing stations with soap, and safe toilets.