Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

A new report from WHO and UNICEF shows that in 2019, two in five schools around the world lack access to handwashing facilities. 

Around the world, the pandemic reinforced the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation. As schools look to reopen safely, an urgent question to answer is whether they can provide the ideal sanitary conditions for their students. The latest data from WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme is cause for alarm: 43% of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019. 

“Global school closures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and wellbeing,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “We must prioritize children’s learning. This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen – including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation.”

818 million children at risk

According to the WHO/UNICEF report, around 818 million children lack basic hand washing facilities at their schools, which puts them at high risk of coronavirus and other transmittable diseases. More than a third of these children are from sub-Saharan Africa.

For schools to safely reopen, WHO and UNICEF recommend governments invest more in infrastructure that allows for all schools to have hand washing facilities. To control the spread of coronavirus, governments must balance the need for public health measures and their social and economic impacts, the report states. 

The report also found that of the 818 million children without access to hand washing facilities, 355 million attend schools with water but no soap, and 462 million to schools without facilities for water. 

In 2019, 698 million children lacked basic sanitation service at their school. One in three schools around the world had either limited drinking water service or none at all. 

“Access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including schools,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “It must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.”

WHO and UNICEF recently launched a joint initiative titled “Hand Hygiene for All” to support the communities most vulnerable during the pandemic. The initiative aims to implement WHO’s global recommendations on proper hand hygiene and to ensure that hand hygiene is a priority even after the pandemic.

Candy Chan

Candy Chan is studying History with a focus on War and Revolution at Barnard College. She is currently a staff writer at the Columbia Daily Spectator, covering issues pertaining to Columbia's...

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