As children in Liberia prepare to return to their classrooms next week, following seven months of Ebola-related school closures, UNICEF and its partners are putting in place safety measures to minimize the risk of transmission of the virus.
“We don’t expect all schools to reopen immediately,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Typically it can take up to a month before the majority of students are back in the classroom. Throughout that period, education authorities will be working to ensure that conditions are as safe as possible.”
Safety measures, including taking children’s temperatures when they arrive to school and making them wash their hands before entering the classroom, have been successfully used in Guinea, where more than 1.3 million children have returned to school since January. Nearly all of Guinea’s more than 12,000 schools are now open, and school attendance is at 85 percent of pre-Ebola attendance, according to data collected by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF.
Following Guinea’s experience, UNICEF has worked closely with the Liberian government and local communities to develop similar safety protocols. Teachers have been trained to implement and monitor the safety measures, soap and other hygiene materials have been distributed and mass mobilization campaigns on Ebola prevention have been conducted nationwide.
“Liberia has learned important lessons from the successful experience in Guinea, and Sierra Leone will build on the Liberia experience,” said Fontaine. “As more schools reopen we will continue to improve the measures in place to keep children safe.”
Due to the Ebola outbreak, schools in the three most affected countries did not reopen after the end of the July-August holidays, depriving five million children of months of education. Guinea reopened its schools on January 19, and Sierra Leone plans to do so at the end of March.