Malawi: Govt. Cautious On Reopening of Schools Amid Teenage Pregnancy Rise

13 August 2020

Government is cautious on the pressure to reopen schools in the country, saying it can do so when the covid-19 situation improves for the safety of people.

Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda together with her counterpart from the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Children Affairs Patricia Kaliati were responding to a report by World Vision International which has forecast a rise in cases of early marriages and teenage pregnancies in the final months of the year if schools remain closed.

The organisation's Director of Operations Charles Chimombo says the future of learners is in jeopardy due to the closure and that government should consider re-opening the schools with strict adherence to preventive measures.

Minister of Health Chiponda and Patricia Kaliati, Minister of Gender and Community Development participated in the new conference organized by World Vision International on weighing up the risks, school closure and reopening under Covid 19 when, why and what impacts.

Kandodo Chiponda said her ministry is aware that maintaining the current restrictions on school closure and other restrictions has detrimental social and economic consequences to the nation.

"There is need, therefore, for a careful consideration of school reopening in order to balance the benefits and potential harms of such a decision if we are to contain the spread of the pandemic.

"You may wish to know that my Ministry through the Expert Group on COVID 19, a Group of Experts drawn from the public sector, the academia as well as the private sector, and consisting of public health specialists, epidemiologists, virologists, immunologists and physicians came up with policy recommendations which were adopted by my Ministry and shared with the Ministry of Education Science and Technology last month, " she said.

Chiponda said in line with guidelines by the World Health Organisation, a country's decision to reopen schools should be guided by a risk based approach to maximise the educational and health benefit for pupils, students, teachers, staff and the wider community and help prevent and control spread of the virus (SARS-COV-2) in the community.

She said from the health perspective, some of the factors to be considered when deciding to open or indeed for that matter to close schools include, current epidemiology and clinical features of COVID 19, specifically transmission dynamics and severity in children.

Chiponda said where there is high transmission it is not safe and advisable to reopen schools.

"Although serious illness is rare in children it should be noted that children can be "silent spreaders" of the virus to members of the community," she said.

She also the government will have to look into local context and epidemiology of SARS-COV-2 where schools are located.

The minister also said the government will examine the epidemiology of SARS-COV-2 varies from one place to another in Malawi, hence this also has to be taken into consideration.

Kandodo Chiponda said the government will look into school setting and capacity to maintain SARS-COV-2/COVID 19 prevention and controlled measures, saying this includes; the school's level of compliance with a minimum set of requirements for COVID 19 infection prevention and control measures, the availability of a list of staff and students with underlying conditions for severe disease.

She said the go efforts to introduce online learning has proven to work to the disadvantage of the majority of pupils and students who can not afford internet bundles, not to talk of laptops and smart phones hence depriving many of the right to education.

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