IMPACT

This Is How Ebola Is Being Kept Out Of Classrooms In West Africa

As the global health community works toward a “game-changing” Ebola vaccine, advocates are pushing the most basic preventative measures to keep children safe.

Children in affected regions in West Africa recently started their summer vacation that was marked by a break from Ebola’s devastating effects. Since schools in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone started employing rigorous hygiene efforts at schools, there have been no reported cases of Ebola among students or teachers, according to UNICEF.

<span>Liberian students wash their hands forming part of the Ebola prevention measures put in place at BW Harris High School
Liberian students wash their hands forming part of the Ebola prevention measures put in place at BW Harris High School as children arrive in the morning to attend classes in Monrovia, Liberia. 

As of March, more than 10,000 people succumbed to the Ebola outbreak that ravaged through West Africa, according to the World Health Organization. 

While schools remained closed for months during the outbreak, the areas saw a spike in rape and prostitution, which inevitably raised Ebola risks among young people. 

An estimated 5 million children were kept out of school from last July until early 2015.

When schools finally reopened in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, nonprofits and staff ensured that there were effective measures in place to keep the disease from spreading.

UNICEF, along with its local partners, installed hand-washing stations and took students’ temperatures before entering the classroom. The groups doled out millions of bars of soap and chlorine, and trained teachers and administrators in hygiene methods.

Implementing such practices came with a number of overwhelming challenges, especially considering the lack of water in all three countries.

Mercy Kennedy smiles as she does her home work after school at her home in Monrovia, Liberia.&nbsp;
Mercy Kennedy smiles as she does her home work after school at her home in Monrovia, Liberia. 

For example, only 33 percent of primary schools in Guinea had access to water, according to UNICEF.

The schools also have protocols in place should a case emerge.

After one student died in June in Liberia, and another became infected in July, two schools were decontaminated.

As schools prepare for the new school year, nonprofits are working toward establishing more long-term hygiene solutions.

“As we battle to get to zero cases, we also must think of the future,” Sheldon Yett, UNICEF representative in Liberia, said in a statement. “Major investments are needed to ensure that schools have basic water and sanitation infrastructure.”

CONVERSATIONS