Medical unions caution against reopening schools


Some medical based unions in Nigeria have cautioned the Nigerian Federal Government against the planned reopening of schools from 18th January.

These include the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) and the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN).

They urged the government to ensure a balance between resumption and adherence to the extant safety protocols as stipulated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

The unions noted with dismay the utter disregard to the safety measures by some Nigerians.

According to them, reopening schools without proper sensitisation and enforcement of safety and non-pharmaceutical interventions like regular hand washing or used of sanitisers, proper wearing of face masks and maintenance of social and physical distancing, will only put school children at the risk of COVID-19 infections.

In an interview with The Nation newspaper, NMA President Prof Innocent Ujah said: “Unfortunately with COVID-19 we do not know the right time. The reality is that parents want their children to go to school, and the school proprietors, particularly the private sector, want their schools to be reopened.

“What we are saying is that we do not know the definite outcome of COVID-19; we do not know how long it is going to stay for. So, it is appropriate to balance this with the national economy including schooling.

“But there is something that we should do which we are not doing. If we comply with the NCDC protocol, which will provide the basic requirements and compliance, then we can say that we will reduce the likely infectivity for covid-19. The way it is now, that cannot be guaranteed. The government should enforce the compliance so that when the schools resume, we do not subject our children and teachers to unnecessary risks.”

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To NARD President Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, the reopening of schools is danger in the waiting.

He said, “I feel that the government is making a mistake with the recent proposed opening of schools in the next few days. It will be insensitive because they have not made any provision as ways of precautionary measures to stop the second wave of the COVID-19, and they have not given instructions to any institution be it schools, nurses and military among others.

“I am even more surprised that even the law that the government brought in that stated that level 12 officials in the government should stay at home is not being obeyed. Most government parastatals are disobeying it.

I was surprised when I went to the University of Benin, and found out that they are all going to work – from level five to level 12. Now we are going to make our children go to school. Remember that over 700 NYSC members got infected with COVID-19 recently.

“Also in Nasarawa State Teaching Hospital, over 20 doctors were infected. We have not taken care of all these yet, now you want our children to go to school without any precautionary measures. I think it is a disaster waiting.

“We need to sensitise Nigerians because we still go around everywhere and see people not wearing their face masks. If you go to LUTH and other centres, the deaths that are occurring are increasing every day and they are under-recording the deaths. What is the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 doing about those? Are there personal protective equipment (PPEs) in the government hospitals?

“I am also aware that recently, the Minister said that every healthcare worker that does not go to see his or her patient will be queried and will have to face the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN).

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“How can you say they should go and face the MDCN, when you have not provided what they need to face their patients with? In more developed parts of the world, they are doing everything they can to ensure that the healthcare workers have all they need to treat their patients and also to make sure that people stay at home and try to find ways to prevent infection from COVID-19. What has the Nigerian government done? These are the things that I think our government needs to be looking at instead of opening schools and making our children get infected. If you go to LUTH, Irrua Teaching Hospital, etc., they will tell you that people die regularly. Opening of schools is therefore a danger in the waiting.”

The NANNM President, Abdrafiu Alani Adeniji, said: “The main purpose why they asked students to stay at home was to curb the spread of the disease. What we understand now is that they have told most of the schools to resume, whereas there are spikes in the occurrence of COVID-19. So, there are two very critical points to be considered. The children cannot continue to stay at home, and also we cannot underrate what this disease can do.

“But the most important thing that we need to take into consideration is that even if the children are at home, and we do not obey the rules and regulations concerning the control and curbing of COVID-19, there cannot be a control of the spread of the disease. Therefore, if the children have to resume, we have to go back to the drawing board and all the precautions have to be put into consideration.

“My fear is that schools may not have adequate facilities to undertake the standard operating procedures in the control of COVID-19, which includes a proper hand hygiene with soap and water, and in its absence, sanitiser.

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“Also keeping a distance that will not allow the droplets to move for one person to the other is important. But in an area where there is clustering it is a danger sign. There is also the wearing of face masks – not only just wearing a mask, but wearing the right quality properly. Without these, resumption becomes some sort of danger for the nation.”

AMLSN President Prof. James Damen said: “For me, I will not buy into that idea. I’m of the opinion that the government should improve the facilities that we have in schools and also look at the seating arrangements to be sure that if a child is infected, he or she will not pose danger to all the children in school.

“I keep on advocating that we also need to ensure that we improve our testing facilities. I also recommend that school authorities should put in place a mechanism in which all the children can be tested. And one of the conditions is that for every child that is resuming, that child should have done a COVID-19 test and come up with a current result that is the test is negative. If not, the COVID-19 situation is going to compound the whole thing and our hospitals will be overwhelmed such that we will not be able to cope with it.

“The resumption of schools thus portends danger for children because we know that COVID-19 is transferred among children very rapidly. Even when we advocate that face masks must be used, our children will not adhere to wearing the face mask all the time.”

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