Read this letter we received from a friend of the house. The writer is a Nigerian mum of 3 – ages 9, 6 (on Saturday) and 2, who is deeply concerned about the re-scheduled school resumption date in view of the threat of the Ebola virus. Every Nigerian mother and citizen should read this and PASS IT ON till it reaches the people that would make the change happen to children resuming back to school whilst EBOLA is still out there.
I just received a mail confirming that schools will re-open on Monday 22nd September, 2014. After reading it, I felt compelled to put on paper my thoughts since the announcement of same by the Federal Government. One thing that struck me is that I am yet to receive information about CONFIRMED (NOT ADVISED/ SUGGESTED) nationwide measures that have been put in place to ensure the safety of our children from the Ebola virus upon resumption at school in two weeks. The reason for moving the resumption date forward by three weeks was given as “containment of the Ebola virus in Nigeria”. How does that statement stand in view of the present situation in Port Harcourt?
I returned to Lagos from a week’s trip to Abuja on Friday 5th September, 2014. The first issue I had, which I mentioned to an airport official was that just before boarding the planes (in Lagos and Abuja), passengers (adults and children) are given a rub-down. The officials checking our bodies were wearing gloves. However, the same gloves were worn while touching a good number of people. The officials were protected, but how about the passengers being touched with the gloves that had been used to touch many others? On arrival at the Abuja airport, the temperature of every passenger was taken before entry was granted into the Federal Capital Territory. Of concern is that on departure from Abuja, this was not the case. Worse still, Lagos State that had the index case of Ebola welcomed us without any precautionary measures of any kind. We simply picked up our bags and walked into the city. With instances where infected people have traveled from one state to another, we should be worried.
It is understandable that we want our children educated, but we need to be reminded that we can only educate the healthy and living. Ebola virus in Nigeria is an unprecedented occurrence that has to be handled as such. “Better safe than sorry” should be the motto here. So far, we have been blessed in the manner that no child has contacted the disease. Children play indiscriminately with one another. A child of what age can be guaranteed to identify the symptoms of the Ebola and keep away from it? How many times do we have to remind our children not to put their hands in their mouths and cover their mouths when they yawn, cough or sneeze? How do we tell them not to play with their friends as they are used to or not to show concern if one of them gets hurt and is bleeding? How can we really be sure that our 3 to 16 year olds would be safe from Ebola in a place where we cannot control who they come in contact with; a place where they share toilets, eat and play with others. How about our babies at crèche who we can’t even attempt to explain this to and who cannot verbalize their day at “school”?
I am the typical “Nigerian Mum”….ensuring my kids are on top of their school work, home work and leisure activities. At this time, I must pause and realize that prevention is the only option here as there is no cure! If the children have to stay home a little longer while this epidemic is eradicated or contained NATIONWIDE then so be it. If this implies a shorter Christmas break this year or just four weeks of Summer break next year to make up for the lost education time, so be it. One thing I am sure no parent wants to deal with is the anxiety if a child comes home with a fever. We all know that at school, children love to share all things with one another from the water in their bottles to the flu. Then again, which parents want to have to take their child to the hospital these days?
If the doctor in Port Harcourt could go to work for some days after being infected with Ebola then we should be more concerned. This was an educated person, in fact someone who knew the consequences of his actions more than most, but he still put others at risk. Worst of all, these were colleagues and patients who could not tell from his demeanor that he was sick. They trusted him and could never have imagined that he would expose them to a deadly virus.
To our leaders, I ask what control measures against Ebola have been put in place in ALL schools, particularly the government and state schools? I visited a private school in Abuja and before we could go in, our temperatures where taken. We should remember that even if private schools are well catered for, the children of our drivers, domestic helps and “junior staff” colleagues attend public schools. How many infrared thermometers have been distributed across these schools in Nigeria? Who would be responsible for taking the temperature of EVERYONE going into ALL schools? Since a symptom of Ebola is sudden fever, how often would the temperatures of students need to be taken in the course of the day? What Ebola emergency responses have been set up by location of ALL schools in Nigeria? What awareness has been carried out in the villages and remote areas of the country, where we have schools too? How will adherence to control measures (if and when they are in place) against Ebola in Nigerian schools be monitored, by whom and how frequently? What steep penalties have been put in place for schools that default?
As a parent I want to see action and not hear words! In a country where a nurse can flee quarantine and a primary contact with the index case can evade detection, with both of them traveling across state lines, I demand action from government before our children are asked to return to school. It’s not enough to ask “Ministries of Education in the 36 states of Nigeria to appoint desk officers on Ebola before resumption or that they should ensure that at least two staff in each school (public and private) are trained by appropriate health workers on how to handle any suspected case of Ebola, should in case there’s one or workers should embark on immediate sensitization of teaching and non-teaching staff in schools on preventive measures”, ALL STATE MINISTRIES OF EDUCATION and SCHOOLS (PUBLIC & PRIVATE) MUST be MANDATED and SUFFICIENTLY EQUIPPED with ALL RESOURCES to ensure Ebola virus does not hit our children.
In Nigeria, it’s just schools that are closed. In some other African countries, communities are closed-in. Now is the time to speak up, so that never happens to us. In my opinion, there are still too many unanswered questions and too many checks to be put in place before schools can resume. Parents, let’s preserve our lineage. Government, let’s preserve the future of Nigeria. Together, let’s preserve the lives of ALL Nigerian children.
Efe FARINRE, Concerned Nigerian Mum.
8th September, 2014. Lagos, Nigeria.