Kinshasa — SOME 82 500 children and their teachers are at risk of contracting the deadly Ebola virus as the new school year begins in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Despite the threat of the disease that has killed over 60 people recently, the government recently made the decision to proceed as planned with the start of the academic year in the affected provinces of North-Kivu and Ituri, where some 250 schools are listed as Ebola-affected health zones.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is scaling up education, health and water, sanitation and hygiene programmes to assist the schools to provide a protective learning environment for children and their teachers.
"Education is a right for every child and essential for children to develop to their full potential," said Dr Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF Representative in the DRC.
He spoke following his visit to Mangina, the epicentre of the Ebola-epidemic.
Rotigliano said especially in times of crisis such as an Ebola outbreak, schools were vital for children to find stability, learn prevention measures and receive psychosocial support.
"Every effort must go into ensuring a smooth and safe start to the new school year," he added.
School principals and teachers will receive training on Ebola prevention and protection, and how to educate children on good hygiene practices to avoid the spread of the virus.
UNICEF is distributing health and water, sanitation and hygiene supplies including laser thermometers, hand washing units and megaphones plus prevention posters to each of the 250 schools.