Nigeria: Don't Reopen Schools Now, Doctors Warn Govt

23 July 2020

Port Harcourt — Following the clamour by many interest groups for the reopening of schools, the Paediatric Association of Nigeria (PAN) has warned against reopening of schools, stressing that COVID-19 is still on the rise.

Paediatrics is the branch of medicine that involves medical care of infants, children and adolescents.

In a statement issued in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, yesterday, PAN cautioned against reopening of schools as the virus due to the upward spike of the virus in the country, with no scientifically reliable vaccine available to treat patients.

In the statement signed by the President, Prof. Edward Alikor, and the Secretary, Dr. Petronila Tabansi, the association said, "As a professional association whose fundamental objective is to 'actively seek the well-being of children and ensure that their right to quality health care is protected,' Paediatric Association of Nigeria views it as a professional responsibility to publicly express its opinion in the ongoing national discourse."

It noted the announcements and shifts in dates for resumption of schools by the federal government and said the possible date of September for reopening of schools would not be in the best interest of children and the nation.

PAN said its position was based currently "vailable consistent scientific facts about Covid-19 published and accepted by the scientific community; the fact that these scientific facts are rapidly evolving and changing; the trend in the incidence of Covid-19 infection in Nigeria; the recognition that children need structured school environment for optimal learning and realisation of their full potentials.

the capacity of the Nigerian health system to quickly respond to unexpected increase in the incidence of Covid-19; and the experiences of other countries where reopening of schools have recently been tried".

It added that figures from Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) showed exponential rise in Covid-19 incidence and deaths, which suggested that Nigeria has not reached its peak incidence of the pandemic.

PAN also noted that the nation's health care system is grossly ill-equipped to absorb sudden surges in cases of Covid-19 in schools.

The association said the world was still learning about the effect of Covid-19 in the human body, including the long-term effect of the virus in various organs, even in asymptomatic carriers including children.

It also noted that Ghana which reopened its schools three week ago has reported 55 new cases in students of Accra Girls Senior High School alone within two weeks of reopening.

"Consequently, PAN supports the continued closure of Nigerian schools and urges that the schools should remain closed until conditions are safe. The minimum criterion for considering the reopening of schools in Nigeria should be a steady and consistent decline in the spread of Covid-19 in most parts of the country. It is then and only then, we believe, that the other criteria as laid down by the Guidelines for Schools and Learning Facilities Reopening after Covid-19 Pandemic Closures (Issued by the federal government) can now be considered," it said.

The paediatricians expressed surprise that public health physicians, infectious disease experts and other child and adolescent healthcare specialists were not amongst the stakeholders listed as having been consulted by the federal government in arriving at the decision to possibly reopen schools in September.

"We urge that this error be corrected to enable the decision-makers arrive at a fact-oriented, balanced and independent decision on such an important issue bordering on the health of our children," it stated, adding that "the safest place for children at this time is at home under the care of their parents".

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