FINDINGS DISPUTED

Reopening schools won't increase Covid-19 cases - study

Public health expert Bernard Muia and top paediatrician Ruth Nduati disagree.

In Summary

• The paper says children "are unlikely to be the main drivers of the pandemic. Opening up schools and kindergartens is unlikely to impact Covid-19 mortality rates in older people." 

• But Prof Nduati and Dr Muia said although most children with Covid-19 may be asymptomatic or have mild sickness, they can still spread the disease at home to older people, who are more vulnerable. 

Dr Bernard Muia, a global public health expert.
Dr Bernard Muia, a global public health expert.
Image: FILE

A new study suggests that reopening of schools is unlikely to increase Covid-19 cases and deaths because children are not the main drivers of the pandemic. 

The Swedish author of the systematic study analysed 700 scientific papers. Children accounted for a small fraction of Covid-19 cases and mostly had social contacts with peers or parents, rather than older people at risk of severe disease.

"Children are unlikely to be the main drivers of the pandemic. Opening up schools and kindergartens is unlikely to impact Covid-19 mortality rates in older people," the paper concludes. 

The study titled 'Children are unlikely to be the main drivers of the Covid-19 pandemic - A systematic review' is published in the Acta Paediatrica, a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal based in Sweden.

However, linking the study to the Kenyan situation, global public health expert Bernard Muia and leading paediatrician Ruth Nduati disagreed its conclusion, saying it is inapplicable in Kenya.

Dr Muia said the study analysed scientific papers that looked at infections among children mostly at home in Europe and not in school settings. He said children are major transmitters of respiratory diseases.

"In Kenya, that conclusion is not applicable. Whenever schools open, there is a lot of transmission of upper respiratory tract infections."

Dr Muia said although most children with Covid-19 may be asymptomatic or have mild sickness, they can still spread the disease at home to older people, who are more vulnerable. 

"There is a 60 to 70 per cent chance of the child infecting someone in the house with mobilities, leading to more complications,"  he told the Star.

Dr Muia said transmission among children needs to be better understood, so officials can take appropriate precautions when reopening schools.

Prof Ruth Nduati of the University of Nairobi.
Prof Ruth Nduati of the University of Nairobi.
Image: COURTESY

A similar objection was raised by paediatrician Ruth Nduati of the University of Nairobi.

"[The] paper quotes an unpublished analysis that suggests less symptomatic people are less infectious, but if you have a very large number of people who are not very infectious, there is still a problem...there will be enough transmission events," she told the Star.

"This paper is by a Swedish epidemiologist. They may be trying to justify the decisions they made. They have the highest number of infections among the Scandinavian countries."

Prof Nduati said children are not able to follow prevention measures, especially when they are far away from supervision.

Last week,  Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha told senators schools would most likely reopen in September. 

"I think within two weeks, we shall be able to know whether we open in September, we can still do the exams perhaps sometime in April next year," he said.

According to the World Health Organization, while people with pre-existing conditions are more vulnerable, children are also contracting the novel coronavirus.

Even so, studies consistently indicate that those under the age of 18 make up only around two per cent of total cases worldwide. One explanation for these low numbers is that because children often experience milder symptoms than adults, they are less likely to be tested.

By June 22, Kenya had recorded 4,738 Covid-19 cases, 123 deaths and 1,607 recoveries. The youngest patient in Kenya is a month-old baby, but most affected are young people aged from 20 to 39. 

 

Edited by F'Orieny