“Keeping students at home in an attempt to protect them from Covid-19 infections harms them in other ways,” the WHO and UNICEF say.
According to the WHO, the impact of the extended education disruption stretches beyond learning institutions into homes where students are.
Some of the consequences outlined by WHO include poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, teenage pregnancies, and overall challenges in the mental development of children due to reduced interaction.
For instance, pregnancy rates among teenagers in Sierra Leone are doubled, with many girls unable to continue with their education when schools reopened after extended closures triggered by the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak.
World Bank estimates indicate that school closures in sub-Saharan Africa could result in lifetime earning losses of $4,500 per child. Additionally, parents forced to stay in homes are restricted from seeking outside work to boost family incomes.
WHO is now asking African governments to reopen schools safely.
The health organizations reiterated that the public must not be blindfolded by their efforts to contain Covid-19 and end up with a lost generation and urged that just as countries are opening businesses safely.
Kenya is yet to reopen schools, with Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha saying that only President Uhuru Kenyatta can decide when to reopen learning institutions.
Currently, 12 countries are planning to resume classroom learning in September, which is the start of the academic year in some countries.
WHO, UNICEF, and the International Federation of Red Cross have issued a guide on Covid-19 prevention and control in schools. Their recommendable measures include wearing masks, discouraging unnecessary touching, canceling of school events that create crowding, spacing desks where possible, providing handwashing facilities, having a different schedule for the beginning and end of the school day and ensuring all sick students and teachers stay at home.
The organizations also recommend regular handwashing, proper environmental cleaning, and fumigation, putting up basic water, sanitation, and waste management facilities, as well as daily decontamination and cleaning of surfaces.
However, the measures could be difficult to implement in Sub-Saharan Africa, where millions of these children go to schools that lack water, sanitation, and hygiene services.