KAMPALA – As battles continue over who should be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine, the head of Adolescent health and school health at the ministry of health Thursday called on government to prioritize vaccinating teachers and school staff.
Dr Dinah Nakiganda wants every teacher and Non teaching staff vaccinated for Health Preparedness in COVID-19 context in order to re-open schools across the country that have been in lockdown.
Dr Nakiganda who was presenting a paper at the World Population Day Media E-Chat on 15 July by Zoom titled; National efforts to promote and achieve universal access to SRHR for adolescents and young people amid COVID-19.
She suggested further that government should also orient all teaching and non-teaching staff on prevention, control and management guidelines for COVID-19.
“Many of us are discussing schools re-opening but as government we should ensure that all non teaching and teaching are vaccinated before the reopening of schools and make sure we also re-orient all teaching and non-teaching staff on prevention, control and management guidelines for COVID-19,” said Dr Nakiganda.
The World Population Day Media E-Chat was organised by United Nations Population Fund [UNFPA] and National Population Council [NPC].
This comes at the time Uganda like many other countries is struggling to get the spread of the Coronavirus under control and many schools have turned to virtual learning.
President Museveni on 7 June under new measures to curtail the spread of Coronavirus imposed a 42 day lockdown that included closure of all education institutions, some ban on travel, shut down of weekly open markets and suspension of church services.
According to UNFPA and UNICEF, the learning loss associated with these school closures due to Covid 19 is predicted to cost the equivalent of $10 trillion in these children’s future earnings.
The organisations add that while it is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of disease transmission in schools, evidence from reopened schools indicates that simple mitigation measures like masking, social distancing, and ventilation are effective in substantially reducing transmission to students and teachers.
Dr Nakiganda explains that children have been at home for long disrupting the school calendar and now suggests that vaccination be given to teachers, pre school children not wear facial masks for the fear of hypoxia, unless under supervision by an adult and that there should be use of disinfectants and sanitizers by school to disinfect all schools facilities, Dormitories, Hostels before schools open.
She suggested all schools should have in place Infrared thermometers and that early learning centers and Schools should be mapped / linked to Health Facilities in their catchment area to support them access health services.
“We should also aassess for school readiness, schools which will not meet readiness standards should not be re -open, temporary Isolation rooms be in place and also have active Referral pathway worked out between health facilities and schools within the catchment area,” Dr Nakiganda said.
“So our view is actually that this step is one that is meant to help communities, help students who are already being disproportionately disadvantaged by schools being closed,” she added.
Dr Wangisi who heads Mbale district Covid 19 ask force agrees with Dr Nakiganda and insists that priority should now shift to vaccinating teachers and non teaching staff to prepare for opening of school.
Dr Wangisi explained that vaccination of staff on the priority teaching and non teaching staff will provide more protection for children and their families ensure continuity of education for children, allow schools to return to normality faster and having a positive impact on children’s mental health.
He however adds that a teacher of 28 years old and healthy should not be getting a vaccine ahead of a 64 year old with diabetes, pressure and asthma.
But ministry of health insists that for now priority should remain vaccinating people who are most at risk for getting seriously ill based on their age and health, even when they are also considering vaccinating teachers.
“By far, the fairest, most principled, most transparent way of allocating the vaccines would be to first try to protect those who are most likely to get very sick or die,” said Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the senior public relations officer at the ministry of health said.
He said that he ministry of health has plans of priotising the teachers for vaccination when they receive another consignment of vaccines but this is dependent on the government decision to re-open schools.
“We have made all efforts to reach out to the people who are most in need, and making special effort to reach out to those who have been most seriously affected by the pandemic as a ministry and we shall reach everyone,” Mr Ainebyoona added.