COVID-19: Benefits of children in school outweighs risk of transmission — NCDC

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says it supports the Federal Government’s decision to reopen schools for the second term of the 2020/2021 academic session because the benefits of having children in school outweighs the risks of transmission of COVID-19.

The Director-General of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, gave the reasons at the ongoing Virtual Plenary Session and Annual General Meeting of the Paediatric Association of Nigeria (PAN) in Lagos on Friday.

Theme of the event is, “Child Survival in Nigeria Amid COVID-19 Pandemic: Issues, Challenges and Way Forward”.

According to Ihekweazu, though children are not the face of COVID-19 at the moment, they risk being among its highest and biggest victims.

He noted that the current data and statistics for the welfare of children in Nigeria was sad and troubling, and having them stay out of school would further aggravate the situation by denying them what they require to have healthy and productive lives.

The director-general said that Nigeria had the highest number of children out of school, nearly 31 million of children under the age of five and about half of the population under the age of 15.

He added that 10.5 million children were currently out of school and closure of schools may result to 10 million being out of school forever.

“You can see why some decisions around school reopening are so difficult to make by the government; how do you balance the need to control this pandemic versus the other requirements children need to live healthy and productive?

“This pandemic is threatening efforts to prevent major causes of child morbidity and mortality, and threatening the small gains we have made over many years in a very difficult context that is ours.

“I, personally, still support the decision of the Federal Government to reopen schools and try as best as we can to mitigate the risks, at least for now.

“If things get out of hand, we may and we will consider this condition but we all understand that the lockdown had a huge impact on children,” Ihekweazu added.

He said that the NCDC had played its role in mitigating the spread of the virus by supporting the Federal Ministry of Education (FMoE) and the states in developing guidelines and preparing a School Readiness Assessment which were conducted in schools.

Earlier, the director-general said the worst outcomes of the virus had been spared in children because the presentation in them was less severe, often asymptomatic and often not clinically significant to visit the hospitals.

“Just 10 per cent of our cases have been confirmed in children and one per cent deaths.

“The few deaths that occurred in children were likely to have happened to them through morbidity that led to deficits in coping with the virus,” he said.

Ihekweazu called for collaboration among governments, schools and parents to effectively protect children from contracting the virus.

Also, a Consultant Paediatrician, Dr Ngozi Onyia, said the healthcare system was plagued with many issues that stood as threats in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Onyia, who is also the Managing Director of Paelon Memorial Hospital, with branches in Ikeja and Victoria island, Lagos, said her hospital had been presented with about 1,766 cases of COVID-19, which included 1,608 outpatients, 158 admissions and 23 deaths.

She said the major threats of health workers managing the patients included burn-out, exhaustion, high infections among staff, and over-regulation without clear guidance from government.

Other threats, she said, are lack of adequate and equitable access and unsustainable out-of-pocket payments for patients.

Onyia urged the government to engage in public-private partnerships, increase uptake of health insurance, reduce brain drain and encourage local private investment in healthcare to manage the current situation.

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