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Immune-suppressed learners, teachers on their own

No set of guidelines have been issued to protect the most vulnerable to Covid-19.

In Summary

• Education Cabinet Secretary reopened schools for KCPE, KCSE candidates and Grade 4 learners Monday with strict guidelines to control infection with coronavirus.

• But he issued no protocols to protect these vulnerable groups. 

A Grade 4 pupil washes hands before heading for a classroom in Kangemi Primary following the reopening of schools on October 12, 2020
A Grade 4 pupil washes hands before heading for a classroom in Kangemi Primary following the reopening of schools on October 12, 2020
Image: ENOS TECHE

Persons with asthma, diabetes, immune deficiencies and pregnant women are likely to have severe consequences should they contract Covid-19, scientists say. 

Learners and teachers with any of these illnesses are expected in school anyway. They will have to take care of themselves. 

Education Cabinet Secretary reopened schools for KCPE, KCSE candidates and Grade 4 learners Monday with strict guidelines to control infection with coronavirus. But he issued no protocols to protect these vulnerable groups. 

Already, teachers are grappling with how to take care of the vulnerable children in their care. 

Daniel Mwangi, head teacher at Stepping Stone Academy in Thika, on Tuesday told the Star that the school has four pupils with diabetes.

Mwangi said the only thing he can do is to regularly remind the pupils on how to stay safe from the coronavirus.

He said it will be difficult to enforce social distancing when pupils go out for breaks, but they cannot restrict play for those with underlying medical conditions. 

“It will be very unfair to enclose them somewhere in the name of protecting them. They need to enjoy their childhood,” Mwangi said.

He said that the school has not had problems handling the pupils, but with Covid-19 the risks are higher and they have to be more vigilant. 

Mwangi said that building good relationships with the pupils will make it easy for the school to handle them.

“Our pupils have built trust in teachers and they are not afraid of reporting anything. Sometime they will even ask for permission to go have their insulin during lessons,” Mwangi said. 

Doctor Waceke Kombe, the vice-secretary Kenya Pediatric Association, told the Star learners with diabetes or hypertension are at risk of severe Covid-19 infection and need special care.

The pediatrician at Agha Khan Hospital said before going back to school, the learners should have been examined by doctors to determine their well-being. 

“For instance, if a learner has diabetes, the sugar levels should be controlled before sending them to school,” Kombe said.

She cautioned that if such parameters have not been taken, then learners should stay at home and have schools establish other modes of teaching them.

“Schools can have a blend of the face to face with online teaching,” she said.

She said that asthma patients have responded differently to the virus and it is not yet clear whether they have a higher chance of contracting the virus or not.

“Some researchers say no and some yes, hence an individual doctor is the only person who can determine whether the patient is stable or not,” Kombe said. 

She added that if learners have fevers or coughs, they should stay at home so that they cannot infect others. She advised that in boarding facilities, learners with underlying medical conditions be put in one dormitory so that they can only have one exposure point.

“Those in one class can play and sleep in one place and in case one gets sick you would be able to isolate one cohort instead of the whole school,” Kombe said. 

A report by the National Hospital Insurance Fund shows 84,000 students sought medication for upper respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis between January and December last year.

Protozoan diseases such as diarrhoea and amoeba which are largely linked to poor sanitation are the second most frequent cases reported with 71,000 students treated in the past year.

The report also shows that 197 learners also sought specialised treatment under the student medical cover dubbed EduAfya making part of those highly susceptible to the virus.

The medical cover is implemented through NHIF by the Ministry of Education and currently covers learners in public secondary schools.

(edited by o. owino)