By Edoamaowo Udeme
She used her hands to scrub in the sand as if to get rid of something that stuck there, she took her hand close to her nose and smelled, the look on her face show that something was actually stuck there, she had just returned from behind the school apparently to defecate in an open field unaccompanied, being a minor of about 6 years, some residue got stuck in her hands, she scrubbed again and again, still, by the look on her face the smell refused to go away, she gave up and returned to the classroom.
Time for break and she was among the first to dash out to buy petty things sold within the school compound where other kids patronize, she hadn’t washed her hands since she left the open field and there she was, dipping those hands into the tray that others are buying from. Welcome to the very unhygienic public schools in Nigeria where there are little or no toilet facilities and where minors are on their own when they wants to defecate.
While in a country like Rwanda parents are withdrawing children from private schools and taking them to the public ones because of elevation of high standard of education in public schools, an average Nigerian does not wish for a day when he will be so poor that his children will be sent to public schools.
UNICEFs concern on early child development and for every child to have a conducive and a healthy environment prompted a visit to Kano state where some schools were visited, children of a public primary school share just one toilet facility.
The children in pre primary class have their source of drinking water kept in an open bucket with a cup floating atop, those who can fetch just grab the cup, fetch and drink while the minors are helped by a nanny, but just how hygienic is an open water and just anybody grabbing the cup to drink?
UNICEF report has it that “Every year, an estimated 124,000 children under the age of 5 die because of diarrhea, mainly due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. Lack of adequate water and sanitation are also major causes of other diseases, including respiratory infection and under-nutrition”
“The economic impact of poor sanitation and hygiene cost the Nigerian economy the equivalent of almost 1.3 per cent of gross domestic product” according to UNICEF .
Recent visit to public schools in FCT reveals an appalling number of teachers and students sharing a toilet facility. For instance, LEA primary school Gwagwalada has 4 toilets for 1987 persons including teachers, The hygienic part of the toilet is an understatement as some pupils defy order and use the open field nearby to ease themselves, the hazard is scary, the sight, appalling, sadly, the odor can be perceived from afar especially in classrooms. Another LEA primary school also in Gwagwalada has just 4 toilets for 2000 persons, a teacher Mr Paul Garba said this would have been well managed but for the mere fact that there are more pupils that it is supposed to be.
“How can you have a class that ordinarily should have sat only 25 pupils harboring over 60″? “That is the situations and what do you expect from such a toilet facility”? “Our government have neglected us” he added
Mrs Mercy Williams another teacher disagreed with Paul she said “It is not the number of children that matters but the maintenance of the toilet facility by caregivers that matters most” “Private schools are not exempted, A 5 years old girl schooling in a private school in Abuja is currently being treated for toilet infection as she complained of itching vagina when she returned from school. It turns out that even in such a school, unhygienic handling of toilet facilities can cause serious health problem to kids no thanks to unconcerned caregivers’.
looking at the health implications with diseases like Diarrhea, Cholera, Dysentery, Toilet infections, Cough, Chicken pox, meningitis, Guinea worm, one wonders the disaster that may happen should any of these children is infected with any of these diseases.
In 2013, Nigeria was certified free of guinea worm disease. By comparison, 653,620 cases of guinea worm disease were recorded in Nigeria in 1988 but looking at the unhygienic handling of sanitation in public schools one prays that there shouldn’t be a relapse.
Most parents should share blame for not inculcating the habit of hand washing in their children right from tender ages.
According to a mother of 6, Mrs Rachel Ogor whose children are in public schools, “I teach my children to wash hands every time but when they get to school there is no water for them to wash hands”
Most children wash hands only when they want to eat but while some children can really wash their hands every time like my children, what really can they do if they went to school and there are no provision for hand washing facility or clean toilets? She added
Some children, like the little child mentioned above are susceptible to these diseases simply because some schools really do not care about their healthy wellbeing.
Some schools provide water for hand washing but leave it unsupervised, that sees lots of children using the same water to wash without rinsing.
While Nigeria missed the mark in halving MDGs, Rwanda mentioned earlier is one of the countries that has since achieved all the 7 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and are neck deep in their SDGs.
The overall national budget of Nigeria has grown by 92% from N4.49 trillion in 2015 to N8.61 trillion in 2018, the same cannot be said of the health budget, it has only grown by a small 14% dropping by 2% as compared to 2015 budget.
If the health sector is being neglected, where then lies the hope that it will achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially Goal 3 that is concerned with our Good health and well being? How then can public schools be managed to the point of parents withdrawing their children from private schools?
Most importantly, how can we avert the disaster that might happen should there be an outbreak of disease as the result of sheer neglect on the part of both the government and caregivers?