Need to gradually reopen schools for children’s mental wellbeing: WHO

Countries should consider gradual and gradual reopening of schools as prolonged closure affects not only education but also the social and mental well-being of children, World Health Organization Southeast Asia regional director Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh told ET in an exclusive interview.

At a time when state governments are considering reopening schools after 18 months of Covid-19 outbreak, Singh told ET that, like other sectors, reopening schools should be considered. “It has been over a year and a half and the pandemic is still ongoing. We don’t know how long this will last. Therefore, like other sectors, we should consider reopening our schools gradually or gradually. This is already being done in many countries. The long-term closure of schools not only affects education, but also the development, social and mental well-being of children and adolescents,” she says.

Singh said three important factors had to be considered: risk assessment, risk mitigation and the need for children to study. “…Risk assessment is key to any decision to strengthen or relax public health and social measures. Second is risk mitigation. Measures to control the transmission of viruses in school environments should be specific to the needs of different age groups. The overall strategy should be to limit contact between children by making classes smaller or spreading out classes; provide adequate facilities for washing hands with running water and soap; wearing masks; sufficient and adequate sanitary facilities; and improving the ventilation of fresh air… The third important factor is the need for children to continue studying. While containing the pandemic is paramount, children must also be able to continue studying. At the local level, this educational need must be weighed against the risk of further spread of the virus. Digital technology may provide solutions, but not everywhere,” she said.

At a time when France and Germany are giving booster doses, Singh told ET that countries should prioritize vaccinating the most vulnerable populations. “The evidence is not yet clear whether a booster dose may be necessary. WHO is following it closely. The WHO has called for a moratorium on Covid-19 booster injections until a fairer distribution of vaccines can protect the world’s most vulnerable people,” she said.

India has followed the vaccination strategy prescribed by the WHO to cover as many people as possible with at least one vaccine dose.

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