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On the 2nd of August 2020, parents of students attending various secondary schools in Ogun State staged a protest against the state government’s policy on payment for covid-19 test by students.
These parents woke up to the news that graduating students for the West African Secondary School Certificate Exams (WASSCE) would return to school for a two-week refresher course. Before the dust settled on that news, they were informed of a compulsory N25,000 naira charge for coronavirus tests before admittance.
The state government reversed this decision the next day, allowing the students to return to schools for the required two-week refresher course even without being tested. Instead, there will be strict enforcement of protective and precautionary measures, such as handwashing, wearing of masks, and physical distancing.
Nevertheless, there are concerns about the safety of students in schools and the ability of these schools to apply these protective measures. Premium Times report indicates that some of these schools were unable to reopen within that time frame for non-availability of facilities for safety, including clean water. On further enquiry, The Special Assistant to the Governor on Public Communication, Remmy Hazzan, expressed commitment to the welfare of the students. Although research is ongoing on the transmission of the virus from children to adults for whom this virus is life-threatening, there should be a concern on the degree of possible contraction of the virus from these teenagers to their much older and more vulnerable teachers.
WHY DO CORONAVIRUS TEST COST SO MUCH?
There are two types of tests conducted for the detection of the COVID-19 virus. First, there is a viral test to determine a current infection, then an antibody test to detect any past contagion. It takes 1-3 weeks for antibodies to develop after infection from the COVID-19 virus.
The Ogun state government says that the required COVID-19 tests, at 25,000 naira, were subsidized at 50% by the state. Accordingly, the full cost of the coronavirus tests in private laboratories is 50,000 naira, while government laboratories run these tests for free. But, with the lab capacity for testing being 500 people to one lab, it is impossible to have conclusive test results for more than 5000 students in time for the WASSCE exams.
In June, Lagos state inaugurated a public-private consortium of laboratories to support the demand for testing at 40,000-50,000 naira. As Lagos is the epicentre of this pandemic in Nigeria, with approximately 16,000 people who are receiving treatment or recovering from COVID-19, It is important to note that at the start of the pandemic, only six laboratories were capable of testing for the coronavirus in the country. Two of those are in Lagos and none in northern Nigeria. Presently, 28 laboratories are using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to test for the COVID-19.
In most countries in the world, Nigeria inclusive, coronavirus tests are free. Nevertheless, for tests conducted in private laboratories, there is a charge. In the United States, the world’s epicentre of the pandemic, these tests are covered under insurance as directed by the country’s congress. The cost of coronavirus tests ranges between 100- 1200 dollars as private insurers exploit the situation.
However, considering the cost of COVID-19 tests in the US, and the fall of the naira to the dollar. The rate of 100 or 132 dollars per test is equivalent to more than 47,000 nairas for a single test in Nigeria.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT TRANSMISSION OF COVID-19 VIRUS AMONG CHILDREN
There is not a lot of information about how children transmit the virus amongst themselves, mainly because schools and parks where children are likely to gather are closed. Despite this, scientists conclude that the older they are, the more vulnerable they are to the virus. According to a South Korean study conducted in July, children from 10 years and younger spread the virus at 50% less than adults, unlike children aged ten years and older who spread it at a similar rate to adults.
A European study published in The Lancet Health magazine in June, notes that children aged three days – eighteen years old are less likely to die from the virus. According to the study, of the 600 children hospitalized due to COVID-19, eight required intensive care, and four died, working out a fatality of only 0.69%.
Although uncommon when compared to an older demographic, there are reports of fatality from the coronavirus in children as young as 30 hours after birth to 13 years old. Recently, a 7-year old boy with no underlying health conditions died of COVID-19 in Georgia, US. Furthermore, in a report by the CDC, children were more susceptible to underlying illnesses due to the COVID-19 such as fever, cough, shortness of breath more than adults who show symptoms of the virus.
HOW THE RATE OF TRANSMISSION AFFECTS SCHOOLS SO FAR….
South Africa, currently with the fifth-highest number of cases in the world, reopened schools only to close them again after virus numbers rose to 400,000 in July. South African students had returned to school in June, much to the disapproval of parents. They are to reopen tentatively on August 24.
While in South Sudan, schools have been closed since March but primary school pupils can listen to their lessons on the radio. Even so, some students are unable to participate because they do not own radios. Over 2 million students are out-of-school in South Sudan owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As information around the virus continues to evolve, there is a need to protect the school teachers who are an older demographic group that is liable to fatality from the virus. This is why teachers in the United States are concerned that a school resumption would put their lives at risk. 50% of teachers and 21% of non-academic workers are very anxious about exposure to COVID-19, as stated by a Gallup poll conducted in July. Recently, a video of a crowded hallway in an American high school with no observance of physical distancing has surfaced and nine students from this school have contracted the virus.
The Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC) says that people within 31- 40 are more vulnerable to the virus with more deaths recorded in people above 60. As it stands, many of our teachers inn Nigeria are well within the range of vulnerability.
STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO PROTECT BOTH CHILDREN AND TEACHERS
As schools in Nigeria plan to reopen for more students, parents are worried about how to protect their children. Here is an excerpt from a parent who called into 99.3 NigeriaInfo FM to share her anxiety for her son.
Here are some steps you can take to protect your children as school begins:
- Talk to your child about COVID-19 and the need for personal hygiene. No matter how young they are.
- Do encourage them to wear masks. The NCDC requires children from 2 years old and above to wear cloth masks.
- Teach them to apply both social and physical distancing where necessary.
- Try to provide them with water bottles so that they do not need to use a tap. Encourage them not to share it.
- Schools are required to limit bus capacity to one child per seat and require masks before entry.
- Consider a household protocol for when children come home. Have them wash their hands immediately. Talk to your child about the nature of school amidst the pandemic and get to know their feelings.
- Finally, parents must insist on schools applying the NCDC guidelines for safe resumption, such as staggered or alternate attendance, platooning, training of teachers and other personnel on safety and hygiene measures, and establishing a COVID-19 referral system.
The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with NewsWireNGR to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.
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