The Zambian government has announced that the 2018 school calendar will delay indefinitely after 50 deaths have been recorded countrywide following the outbreak of cholera.
According to a joint statement by Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya and his education counterpart Dennis Wanchinga, the re-opening of schools countrywide has been deferred until further notice.
“We have had an outbreak of cholera from October 6, 2017 and it has affected mainly Lusaka Province and we have recorded sporadic cases in various parts of the country,” says Dr Chilufya.
So, this is an important measure and will apply to all schools nationally and we will be able to review this decision by January 30, 2018. This period will allow us to work with the authorities in the schools to look at water and sanitation facilities, correct them where need be and so there is a task force that is wor
“We have recorded a total of 2047 cases and Lusaka alone is accounting for 2000 cases. Cumulatively, we have recorded 50 deaths, with Lusaka accounting for 47 deaths. We have mounted a robust multi-sectoral approach involving various sectors.”
Dr Chilufya has issued a Statutory Instrument N0. 79 of 2017 which evokes provisions of the Public Health Act to ensure that the spread of the outbreak and loss of life is prevented.
He said deferring the re-opening of the schools countrywide was to avoid many gatherings in various educational facilities.
“There are children who are coming from areas which we are describing as the epicenters of the epidemic and they will be mixing with children from other areas. There may be cross contamination and that may escalate the epidemic.
“There are also children that will be coming from the epicenters in Lusaka who may need to travel to boarding schools outside Lusaka to various parts of the country. So, we will suddenly be having a possibility of carriers and this disease will spread in various parts of the country and will spiral out of control.
The decision will be reviewed at the end of this month.
“So, this is an important measure and will apply to all schools nationally and we will be able to review this decision by January 30, 2018. This period will allow us to work with the authorities in the schools to look at water and sanitation facilities, correct them where need be and so there is a task force that is working to ensure that water facilities, sanitation facilities in the schools is in good shape.”
This week, President Edgar Lungu deployed the army to help ‘escalate effort’ by the ministry of health to contain the cholera outbreak.
In a Facebook post, the president said he had determined that ‘emergency steps needed to be taken’ after reviewing the ongoing interventions by the health ministry.
Dr Chilufya said his ministry would broadcast key messages to raise awareness to improve personal hygiene by school children before schools re-opened, in addition to rolling out a vaccination programme.
“This will help reduce the spread of the disease. We are targeting to begin vaccination within the next seven to 10 days and we are going to vaccinate an initial number of two million people and we hope to reach four million. This will give us an opportunity to continue correcting the issue of access to clean and safe water. Let’s be mindful that the drivers of this epidemic include consumption of contaminated water and food, poor waste management, and poor personal hygiene practices. These must be addressed,” said Dr Chilufya.
Education minister Dennis Wanchinga said postponing the re-opening of schools due to the cholera outbreak was an important decision to make.