No fewer than 818 million children globally lack basic handwashing facilities in their schools, putting them at increased risk of COVID-19 pandemic and other transmittable diseases.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) made this known in a joint report made available on Thursday.
This is part of the report, a WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), which showed that 43 per cent of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019.
“Around 818 million children lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools, which puts them at increased risk of COVID-19 and other transmittable diseases.
“More than one third of these children (295 million) are from sub-Saharan Africa.
“In the least developed countries, seven out of 10 schools lacked basic handwashing facilities and half of schools lacked basic sanitation and water services,” it said.
According to the report, other key findings showed that of the 818 million children who lacked basic handwashing service at their school, 355 million went to schools which had facilities with water but no soap.
It added that 462 million of the children went to schools which had no facilities or water available for handwashing.
“In the 60 countries at highest risk of health and humanitarian crises due to COVID-19, three in four children lacked basic handwashing service at their schools at the start of the outbreak.
“Half of all children lacked basic water service; and more than half lacked basic sanitation service.
“One in three schools worldwide had either limited drinking water service or no drinking water service at all.
“Six hundred and ninety-eight (698) million children lacked basic sanitation service at their school,” it said.
The report also noted that as schools worldwide were struggling with reopening, handwashing with soap and water were key condition for schools to be able to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, said in the report: “Global school closures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and wellbeing.
“We must prioritise children’s learning. This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen – including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation.”
Also, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said: “Access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including schools.
“It must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.”
The report stressed that governments seeking to control the spread of COVID-19 must balance the need for implementation of public health measures versus the associated social and economic impacts of lockdown measures.
It said that evidence of the negative impacts of prolonged schools closures on children’s safety, wellbeing and learning were well-documented.
The report identified several WASH-related protocols on hygiene measures, use of personal protective equipment and cleaning and disinfection.
Others were providing access to clean water, handwashing stations with soap, and safe toilets, as a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.
It added that UNICEF and WHO were committed to achieving equitable access to adequate WASH services worldwide.