Paediatricians Caution FG against Reopening of Schools

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By Ernest Chinwo

As many interest groups urge the federal government to reopen schools shut down in the wake of the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, the Paediatrics Association of Nigeria (PAN) has warned against the danger of reopening schools as the disease is still on the rise.

Paediatrics is the branch of medicine dealing with children and their diseases.

In a statement issued in Port Harcourt Wednesday, PAN cautioned against reopening of schools as the coronavirus pandemic in still on an upward spike in the country and no scientifically reliable cure is available to treat patients.

In the statement signed by the President, Prof. Edward Alikor, and 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.

According to the statement, PAN’s position is based on currently available 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 realization 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 the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) show exponential rise in Covid-19 incidence and deaths, which suggest that Nigeria has, at this time, not reached its peak incidence of the pandemic.

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

The association said the world is 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 Covid-19 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 urge 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”.