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Africa: COVID-19 hygiene measures must be enforced in schools set to reopen in West and Central Africa, says Save the Children

Schools in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal that closed to contain the spread of COVID-19 reopen in about ten days.

As thousands of children prepare to return to school across West and Central Africa, it is essential that hygiene measures required to slow COVID-19 are in place, says Save the Children.

About 12 million children have been affected by school closures across Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal. Whilst welcoming the decision of authorities to reopen schools, the agency is warning they must remain safe to limit the risk of COVID-19 contagion for children and their families. Protective equipment for staff, and ensuring children understand the

importance of social distancing and hygiene measures — including access to clean water – are of paramount importance to ensuring schools reopen safely.

Clarice, a 15-year-old girl from Burkina Faso told Save the Children staff her concerns since the Coronavirus outbreak and social restrictions and school closure.

Clarice, 15, is in a secondary school in Burkina Faso. She said:

“I couldn’t imagine going back to school because people said the disease would last a very long time and could kill everyone. I can’t explain all the fear and anxiety I’ve been going through in the last couple of months. How will my exam be? My future? On television, it was always bad news. Neither my parents nor anyone else could reassure me about anything. Today I feel hope reborn. Even though I haven’t been able to work for several weeks, I’m ready to get back to work to get my exam.”

Save the Children is calling for teachers to be trained and equipped to recognise and where appropriate refer children who have been negatively impacted by measures such as social restrictions.

Philippe Adapoe, Regional Director of Save the Children for West and Central Africa, said:

“Millions of children were left at home for almost two months without the possibility of continuing their education properly. Out of school and without an education, children are exposed to increased risk of abuse, neglect, violence, recruitment into child labour and armed conflict. We also know that girls are more likely to drop out of school altogether.”

“But, the reopening of schools must include comprehensive plans to keep children and educational staff safe and support the most marginalized children, including girls, to return to school.This means the Government must first ensure all health measures are in place including social distancing, availability of protective equipment and handwashing facilities. We must do everything we can to protect this generation of children and ensure that they can continue to learn in a safe environment.”

Even with schools reopening, children across West and Central Africa still face challenges in accessing education. With this period coinciding with the rainy season, in some countries classrooms are repurposed into temporary shelters for communities.

In the Sahel region before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than two million children were already deprived of education due to security challenges. It is essential that they are supported in accessing long distance and remote learning tools to ensure all children the chance to access their basic right of education.

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