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The perils of opening schools amid a cholera outbreak

One is tempted to comment on the stresses the parents were going through, considering the high cost of living, the skyrocketing inflation, unbearable taxes, painful tollgate fees and the general toxic micro and macro-economic environments.

THERE was a hive of activity last week as parents jostled to do their last round preparations to send their children back to school for the first term of the year.

One is tempted to comment on the stresses the parents were going through, considering the high cost of living, the skyrocketing inflation, unbearable taxes, painful tollgate fees and the general toxic micro and macro-economic environments.

This year will go into the history books as a year when many learners failed to return to school days and weeks after school opened and there is little hope that their school fees may be found soon. It is a disaster for many in the country as poverty continues to maul citizens.

As parents and guardians ponder how to raise fees for the children they have to endure potholes which have mushroomed everywhere and the most annoying thing is that some of them are left unattended to despite them being few metres away from the toll plazas where fees have been increased by 100%. Motorists are bearing the brunt of the penurious roads which calls for urgent rehabilitation of roads, especially in Harare.

Amid this pathetic socio-economic chaos, at education powerhouses like Goromonzi High, Zimuto High, Chibi High, Moleli High and Msengezi High a few learners had reportedly returned to take their boarding places by January 9, 2024, the day schools opened. This has never been heard of before because these schools would have been full on the eve of opening.

Then, one wonders whether January 9 was the right date to open schools, considering that we were coming from a difficult festive season. A lot of parents were eagerly waiting for government to announce a postponement in schools opening. Was it not better to open schools late into January when many civil servants would have received their salaries?

It is, indeed, very difficult for teachers to commence lessons with a half full class; so the next two weeks will be a waste of time for many schools. The most ironic thing is that despite the harsh economic environment, many schools have increased their tuition fees.

Factors pinpointed include Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s fiscal policy which has been condemned because it is squeezing the little remaining juice from the lemon.

As if these scenarios depicting a nation facing serious struggles were not enough, cholera continues to rear its ugly face and we pray that the diarrheal disease does not extend its slimy tentacles to schools because that may be a calamitous development with potential to decimate many learners.

The natural sluggish response by some of the school authorities when it comes to health matters of learners should not be tolerated if we want to remain on top of the cholera outbreak. The disease has potential to kill within hours if urgent action is not taken in complicated cases where dehydration may be too advanced.

Zambia deferred opening of schools to end of January to give itself ample time to contain the outbreak of this deadly disease which is also giving our northern neighbour sleepless nights. This measure may not be applicable in Zimbabwe at the moment because the country is not taking serious measures to contain this medieval disease whose roots is in poor water supplies, erratic sanitation and general poverty.

So delaying schools opening without taking action against unemployment, revamping our old water infrastructure, colleting garbage and repairing burst pipes, would have been absurd and an ignominy for Zimbabwe. In other words, delaying the opening of schools would have made little to no difference.

Given this situation, the onus is now on schools to pay serious attention to cholera symptoms and learners should be educated about the symptoms and signs of cholera. Serious health education, robust testing, surveillance and momentous case management should be undertaken if we are to avoid disaster and reduce both morbidity and mortality at our schools.

It is wise for schools to stock oral rehydration sachets for first line management of cholera in case of a school spread.

This year’s first term is unique and ranks among some of the country’s worst starts to a school calendar year, so it is wise that our school take extra care in order not to make it worse.

Johannes Marisa is president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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