The Lagos State government yesterday directed all public and private schools in the state to resume on September 22 for the 2014/15 academic session.
The directive was in line with the date proposed by the Federal Government which said there is no new case of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Lagos State.
This is coming on the heels of a similar position by expounded by the minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, who stated that there is no reason why schools should not reopen on September 22, as scheduled, adding that there were no more patients in the country undergoing treatment for Ebola and advised people to stop the stigmatisation of survivors.
Special Adviser on Governor Babatunde Fashola Information and Strategy, Lateef Raji, in a statement yesterday said the September 22 date is “eminently justifiable,” because there is currently no known carrier of EVD in the state and the last individual suspected to have been exposed to the virus would be discharged from observation on September 18, 2014, if he tests negative for the virus.
“All public and private educational institutions in the state are, therefore, directed to schedule their resumption accordingly,” Raji said.
He added that health professionals working on the outbreak were also in agreement that there is no reason why schools should remain closed beyond the date.
On the safety measures on ground, the special adviser said: “The state government has now developed and will deploy all resources necessary to sustain the capacity to promptly take into custody any person suspected to be infected with EVD, as well as safely tests, monitor and isolate such a person for treatment as may be found necessary without endangering other members of the public.”
The government directed following steps to be taken by both public and private schools, before and after resumption: “Training and sensitization of students, vendors, teachers and non academic staff on EVD and how to avoid it; identification of EVD Focal Persons in schools who would be responsible for surveillance and health monitoring; provision of adequate environmental sanitation, including clean toilets and premises.
“Provision of running water and soap and encouragement of frequent hand washing; sensitisation of students on other personal hygiene habits, like the use of handkerchiefs when sneezing or coughing; and arrangement for prompt referral of any sick person to the nearest health institution for treatment”.
Raji stressed the need for everyone to remain very vigilant, as the disease still remains in other countries within the sub-region.
“In spite of the foregoing, the state government reiterates that the health of all its residents is a matter of utmost importance and, if any reasons emerge for a reconsideration of the school resumption date, a well-considered decision will be taken and the general public will be informed accordingly,” he said
Chukwu, who spoke yesterday in Lagos while addressing journalists at the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC), Yaba on the disease in the country, also called on journalists to avoid arousing panic in the people in the way they report about the disease in the country, saying it is counter-productive.
He noted that apart from any other problem that is not medical, “there is no reason why any school should not resume this session.”
He stated that reopening of schools would even help in educating children about the dangers of the virus and the teachers on how to handle sick people, adding that if children were allowed to go to churches, mosques and other social gatherings without contracting the disease, they could also not contract it in schools.
“I want to make it clear that from the technical point of view, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why any school, unless they have other problems which are not medical, cannot reopen. There is no reason why any Nigerian child cannot go back to school or those who have to start school cannot start school,” he stressed.
The minister stated that it is not in the Ministry of Health’s jurisdiction to decide whether schools should be reopened or should not, saying the ministry’s assignment is to give advice and leave the rest for the Ministry of Education and school principals to decide.
He was reacting to a recent report quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO) office in Nigeria as being against reopening of schools, declaring the report as false.
“When the Minister of Education and state Commissioners of Education decided on the date of reopening of schools from October 13 to September 22, 2014, we had nothing against that. If we did, we would have let them know.
“It will help in teaching the children what Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is all about. It is going to offer us that opportunity to reinforce what we are already teaching their teachers, because they are going through programmes on how to handle children who are sick.
“You noticed that Nigeria has not closed any single market. Sometimes, there are contradictions in what we do. The media did not tell churches and mosques to close. Every day, churches and mosques are open and people go to pray there. Children follow their parents to churches and mosques to pray.
“We absolutely have nothing against what the Minister of Education announced, and if truth be told, schools are free to open.”
Chukwu explained that government has done enough to contain the virus, with only a handful of people who are only quarantined and have not been confirmed to have been infected.
He stressed, however, that the battle has not been won and a lot still needs to be done. “But that does not mean we should go to sleep. There is no place in Nigeria, as we are speaking now, that we are treating anybody of EVD.
“But you haven’t seen us popping champagne for the simple reason that we know that yes, we are doing well. We have won the battle, but we have not yet won the war. The enemy is still planning whatever he can do, but we don’t want that enemy to spring any surprise on us.
“We are happy that for now, nobody has active EVD in Nigeria, but that is not to say that you should be surprised if we have one tomorrow. Even as of now, we have a number of people who are still on surveillance.
“We are keeping them on surveillance because there is still that possibility for any of them to develop the disease. We are still not out of it, because elsewhere in the world, we have cases of EVD. There is no restriction on travel and as long as there is any one case in the world, every other part of the world is still at risk.
“We have not done too badly in Nigeria. For now, the number of cases that have been confirmed in Nigeria remains at 19; number of death so far is seven, which means survivors are 12.
“We don’t have anybody presently under treatment, but we still have contacts; we have 11 contacts in Lagos State and 18 in Rivers State. So, it is still a lot of work to be done, but we will keep doing the work; we will not give up.”
The minister however frowned at the negative reporting of the outbreak and the disease by some media houses, saying it doesn’t aid in the fight against the virus.
He also urged people to stop the stigmatisation of survivors of the disease, stating that they are the safest people to be with right now, as far as Ebola is concerned.
“A number of areas I want the media to take away are firstly, we are treating that disease, we are preventing the disease, but so are we treating rumours.
“The worst thing that can happen to any country is where people no longer know that there is leadership and they panic. Once we allow that to happen, then we cannot control the disease anywhere. Part of it is that we want the media to remain investigative, but do not carry rumours.
“People should stop stigmatising survivors of EVD. If I am given the opportunity to pick who I would like to stay around me, I would pick survivors because they are free of this virus and they cannot suffer it again.
“They are the safest people to stay with now because they have antibodies that can prevent any future attack by the virus, unlike the people who are stigmatising them. So, people who are stigmatising them are being ignorant,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, WHO’s Country Director, Dr. Rui Vae, has commended the Federal Government’s approach in containing the virus. He said government’s approach has been proactive, adding: “This is an example of how things should be done to contain the disease anywhere.”