By Cuthbert Mashoko
The opening of schools on 9 January as cholera cases escalate in Zimbabwe might see the spread of the bacterial infection if due attention is not put in place.
The opening of schools is always a hive of activity as learners and teachers troop to their respective schools.
Parents are not left out as they are caught in the ‘rush hour’ preparing for their children’s educational needs.
It is this massive movement and interaction of people which can be disastrous, given the ever increasing cases of cholera since the confirmed outbreak in February 2023 in Chegutu.
To date, according to Ministry of Health and child care the nation has recorded 15 137 suspected cases, 1 759 confirmed cases, 14 578 recoveries, 67 confirmed deaths and 266 suspected deaths.
As schools open while the nation riles under the sporadic cholera outbreak which have now spread out of the traditional cholera hotspot districts of Buhera, Chegutu, Chikomba, Chimanimani, Chipinge, Chitungwiza, Chiredzi, Harare, Gokwe North, Marondera, Mazowe, Shamva, Mutare, Murehwa, Mwenezi, Seke, and Wedza, precautionary measures need to be enforced to guide against a possible viral spread of the disease in schools.
The excitement of opening of schools especially among boarding learners which is usually associated with “hostel feasts” as learners share and enjoy food prepared at home might be “nursery beds” for the blowout of the bacterial infection.
Understandably, most boarding schools have barred importation of prepared food stuffs from home, but this tradition continues to thrive as learners have their own mechanisms of cheating school authorities.
This calls for intensive checkups before the admission of the learners in the hostels in order to close any chances of smuggling prepared food stuffs.
Wash facilities need to be mandatory at schools. Hand hygiene is key in the prevention of cholera. As such wash facilities should be the first port of call to anyone entering the school premises.
Equally important is to equip classrooms with wash facilities to enable learners to wash their hands often. Thorough washing of hands before eating and after visiting the toilet should be mandatory. Learners should avoid shaking hands as this can facilitate the spread of cholera.
Selling of fruits within school premises should be prohibited since these can fuel the spread of cholera especially given that we are in the season of mangoes.
School authorities need to ensure that learners desist from buying fruits, however if needy be they must be thoroughly cleaned before consumption.
Provision of portable water and sanitation is a vital safety net in fighting against cholera. It is here were most communities and schools are found wanting.
In this regard as schools open robust measures need to be put in place to ensure that learners have access to safe drinking water.
More so, schools need to be supplied with disinfectants to be used in the daily cleaning of ablution facilities and classrooms.
Lastly but not least fumigation of school premises before opening seems a necessity in ensuring that all schools are safe and cholera bacteria free before opening.
Mashoko Cuthbert is a teacher and development practitioner in Rutenga.
He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on Curthmash@gmail.com or 0779792738