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PROPOSED EBOLA BACK TO SCHOOL ACTION PLAN (PEBSAP)

January 14, 2015 Prepared by: Rashid Justice Dumbuya, International human rights lawyer, CEO and founder of: Christian Lawyers Centre for Legal Assistance and Policy Reforms

Submitted to: The President of the Republic of Sierra Leone & the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology

This work is dedicated to all the heroic Sierra Leonean doctors that have lost their lives to the Ebola epidemic. We shall always remember their sacrifice.

ABSTRACT

Placing an academic embargo, though a prudent decision to mitigate Ebola risks surely has a costly price to cope with especially in a society where 70% of the population is illiterate. Keeping students away from school will surely have devastating consequences for the future of the Sierra Leonean society. It will lead to the increase in social vices, drop outs, teenage pregnancy, and even violence and criminal activities in the society. All of these social ills may have equal or more gruesome impacts in the long term when compared to Ebola. With the recent scale up of treatment centres, international support and medical expertise in the country, it is perhaps the right time to develop a comprehensive and realistic action plan that will help accelerate the reopening of schools albeit in a safe and healthy academic environment. The president of Sierra Leone did mention in his New Year’s Day address to the nation about plans to get students back to school within the shortest possible time.

Against this backdrop, CHRISTIAN LAWYERS’ CENTRE FOR LEGAL ASSISTANCE AND POLICY REFORMS have decided to put together a PROPOSED EBOLA BACK TO SCHOOL ACTION PLAN (PEBSAP) to compliment the efforts of the government and the Ministry of Education in Sierra Leone in realizing this sacred objective.

BACKGROUND

In December 2013, Ebola hit the shores of West Africa starting with Guinea, Liberia and eventually finding its way into the Republic of Sierra Leone in May 2014. Since 1976, there have been reported cases of Ebola in Africa but this is the first Ebola outbreak to have reached epidemic proportions. Past outbreaks were brought under control within a couple of weeks. Extreme poverty, dysfunctional healthcare systems, mistrust of government officials and incessant delay in responding to the outbreak with due diligence have all contributed to the failure of controlling the epidemic. Other factors such as international indifference, illiteracy, entrenched customs and traditions like handshaking, washing of dead corpses and observing communal rites of passage have also contributed to the spread of the virus. Even the World Health Organization has also been criticized for its delay in taking swift action to address the epidemic.

As I put this Action Plan together and looking at the appalling Ebola statistics as expressed in the Ministry of Health’s update of 6th January 2015, the grim realities of 6th January 1999 in the history of Sierra Leone lingers on in my mind’s eye. Just like how the rebels descended in the City of Freetown and ravaged it beyond repairs, so also has Ebola continued to wreak havoc on the lives of the innocent Sierra Leonean population in every parts of the country. The striking difference however between the rebels and Ebola, lies in the fact that, the latter monster had decided to envelope itself this time in a virus instead of the barrel of the gun. As at January 6th 2015, the Ministry of Health Ebola Updates puts the Ebola Cumulative confirmed cases in Sierra Leone at 7,641 and the total cumulative confirmed deaths at 2,607. While discrepancies on the accuracy of these figures looms large, it is still a shocker that so many lives have been lost to the virus within just a period of eight months since the outbreak of the disease.

But in recent times however, a great deal of successes has been scored against the disease. International efforts have scaled up and the number of treatment centres has also increased. But notwithstanding, the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone has provoked the enforcement of harsher measures from the government in a bid to curb down the virulent disease. Among many others, a state of public health emergency has been declared, a three days national lock down has been enforced, trading and public gatherings have been censored, a new National Ebola Committee has been reconstructed, a Minister of health has been recalled and a 7 days national fasting and prayers have been imposed. Worse of all however, Universities, schools and other institutions of learning have been shut down for over 8 months now.

This academic embargo, though a prudent decision at the time, surely has a costly price to it especially for a society whose literate population still dazzles within the 30% bracket range. Keeping students away from school will surely have devastating consequences for the future of the Sierra Leonean society. It will lead to the increase in social vices, drop outs, teenage pregnancy, and even violence and criminal activities within society. Actual surveys and perhaps, time, will help to ascertain the extent of damage and impacts.

In his 2015 New Year’s Day speech to the nation however, the president of Sierra Leone did mention about his plans to get students back to school within the shortest possible time. This pronouncement by His Excellency clearly connotes a policy statement that must translate into an action plan and a comprehensive policy document if success is to be achieved in this direction.

It is against this backdrop that CHRISTIAN LAWYERS’ CENTRE FOR LEGAL ASSISTANCE AND POLICY REFORMS have decided to put together an PROPOSED EBOLA BACK TO SCHOOL ACTION PLAN (PEBSAP) to compliment efforts of the government and its respective Ministries, Department and Agencies in coming out with a comprehensive policy document that will actualize the pronouncement of His Excellency and make for the speedy reopening of schools in a safe and healthy environment.

AIM & OBJECTIVES

The major objective of this PROPOSED EBOLA BACK TO SCHOOL ACTION PLAN is to compliment the effort of the government and its respective Ministries, Department and Agencies in coming up with a comprehensive and realistic action plan that will help actualize the pronouncement of His Excellency and make for the speedy reopening of schools in a safe and healthy academic environment.

JUSTIFICATION

Strong reasons exist why schools must reopen amidst the Ebola outbreak.

1. The pronouncement of the president during his New Year’s message to the nation on reopening of schools is a policy statement that must translate into an action plan.

2. After the end of the 7 days national prayers and fasting declared by the President against the Ebola virus, faith must be put into action. Steps of faith must be taken to move things forward.

3. There are more treatment and holding centres present in the country today than before.

4. There is greater awareness now on the disease in every part of Sierra Leone.

5. More trained medical staff and personnel are now available in the country to help out.

6. With adequate precautionary and preventive measures in place, risks can be mitigated.

7. Students have already missed out about 9 months of academic learning. Not good for growth stability and academic development.

8. There will be an increased in social vices in the society if schools continue to remain close.

9. Continuous staying at home may increase likelihood for more dropouts, teenage pregnancy, violence and crime to occur in the society.

10. The country needs to move forward amidst the Ebola outbreak.

STRATEGY

This strategy is divided into three phases. Phase 1 will focus on the reopening of University and tertiary institutions. Phase 2 will focus on the re-opening of Secondary schools while Phase 3 will focus on primary and Nursery schools. This division into phases is to determine actual or potential risks in the reopening of schools and be able to put the government in a better position to mitigate any transfer of risks as best as possible. A progressive realization will also show what area needs to be strengthened and the modalities that are needed to be put in place to deal with imminent challenges that will be observed.

TARGET GROUPS

The target groups are university students, students in colleges, technical and vocational institutions, pupils in secondary, primary and Nursery schools both in the government and private institutions of learning.

PROPOSED EBOLA BACK TO SCHOOL ACTION PLAN IN DETAIL

PHASE 1- RE-OPENING OF UNIVERSITIES AND TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS

Proposed date of re-opening

February 2015 may be a good period to re-open tertiary institutions in the country. After its reopening, the situation should be closely observed and under- studied right through the end of March 2015 before the second phase may commence.Time and duration of classes

Classes should not be held for longer hours. From 9 am to 3pm could be a good starting period.

Dress code     

Students should be encouraged to wear dresses that cover their bodies in full during this period. Any dress that exposes a student’s body in material terms must be discouraged.

Seating arrangements

The seating arrangements must be spacious to ensure the minimization of body contacts. Large classes will have to be split up or taken in bigger class rooms or outside environments such as Amphi theatres, stage grounds etc.

Health code of ethics

This should contain a simple directive that all students must follow while on campus or within the academic environment of the tertiary institution. It must be approved and enforced by the school authorities.

Ebola emergency units (EEU)

Every tertiary institution must have an EEU in its environment comprising of a handful of medical personnel who will be ready to provide first aid care to affected cases and liaise with holding centres where things get out of control. They also will be engaged in sensitization, monitoring and enforcement of health code ethics within the tertiary institutions.

Ebola temperature checkers (ETC)

Health personnel with temperature checkers must be stationed in each tertiary institution to do daily routine checks on every student before they enter the University’s academic ground for classes. This screening process must be made compulsory and result of suspected cases treated with urgency.

Emergency ambulance and communication unit

A special ambulance team with emergency vehicles and communication systems must be on the alert to attend to emergencies within academic institutions. They must operate an effective health emergency help line.

Cleaning of toilets, use of detergents, hand sanitizers and chlorine

This must be provided in large quantities and their use must be encouraged on a regular basis. Toilets must always be kept clean and decent at all times.

Use of synthetic gloves

Students should be encourage putting on synthetic gloves at all times while on campus or get their personal gloves to wear. They should also refrain from touching themselves, doing handshakes or body contacts while on campus.

Potential challenges to be encountered in tertiary institutions

* Small classrooms with large number of students.

* Poor sanitary facilities, indecent toilet facilities.

* Scarcity of water supply in academic institutions such as FBC etc.

PHASE 2 – REOPENING OF SECONDARY SCHOOLS

Proposed date of re-opening

The beginning of APRIL 2015 may be a good period to reopen Secondary Schools as the situation under Phase 1 will have informed challenges and potential risks that could be adequately addressed before affecting this populous and vulnerable group.

Time and duration of classes

Classes should not be held for longer hours. From 8 to 12 noon for Morning Shifts and 12:30 to 4pm for Afternoon shifts will be prudent way to begin.

Dress code

Secondary school pupils should be encouraged to wear long sleeve dresses under their uniforms particularly during this challenging period so as to cover their bodies in full and safeguard against unintended body contacts. Where possible, civil attires that cover the full body of pupils should be allowed within this period.

Seating arrangements

The seating arrangements must be spacious to minimize body contacts. Large classes should be split into two or taken in bigger halls or outside environments such as devotional stages and play grounds.

Health code of ethics

This should contain a simple directive that all pupils in Secondary schools must follow while in the school environment. It must be approved and enforced by the school authorities.

Ebola emergency units (EEU)

Because of the plethora of schools in the country, it may not be practical for every secondary school to have an EEU in its environment. However, Zonal Ebola Treatment Centres may designate a team of health workers and medical personnel to cover certain amount of secondary schools within a particular zonal group. This designated team will be engaged in sensitization and monitoring, enforcement of health code ethics within their respective schools in the zones and also provide first aid care to affected cases and liaise with Treatment holding centres where things get out of control.

Ebola temperature checkers (ETC)

Health personnel with temperature checkers must be stationed in each of the schools to do daily routine checks on every pupil before they enter the school grounds for classes. This screening process must be made compulsory and the result of suspected cases treated with urgency.

Emergency ambulance and communication unit

A special ambulance team with emergency vehicles and communication systems must be on the alert to attend to emergencies within academic institutions. A separate ambulance team must cover Secondary schools. They must operate an effective health emergency help line that is known to all and sundry.

Cleaning of toilets, use of detergents, hand sanitizers and chlorine

Detergents, hand sanitizers and chlorine must be provided in large quantities and their use must be encouraged on a regular basis. Toilets in secondary schools must be kept clean and decent at all times.

Use of synthetic gloves

Pupils in Secondary Schools should be supplied and encourage putting on synthetic gloves at all times while on the school environment or get personal gloves to wear. They should also refrain from touching themselves, doing handshakes and body contacts while in school.

Potential challenges to be encountered in Secondary Schools

* Over-crowding.

* Small and less spacious classrooms.

* Large number of schools and pupils to deal with.

* Poor sanitary facilities, indecent toilet facilities and lack of water supply in many schools.

* Vulnerable population in terms of observation of health code ethics.

PHASE 3 – REOPENING OF PRIMARY AND NURSERY SCHOOLS

Proposed date of re-opening

The beginning of JUNE 2015 may be a good period to reopen Primary schools as the situation under Phase 1 &2 will have informed challenges and potential risks and also garner experiences on how to effectively address and mitigate risks of infection to this populous and most vulnerable group of pupils.

Time and duration of classes

Classes should not be held for longer hours. From 8 to 11 for Morning Shifts and 12:00 to 3pm for Afternoon shifts. All classes for kindergartens and Nursery children must end at 12noon.

Dress code     

Primary school pupils and kindergartens should all be encouraged to wear long sleeve dresses and shorts particularly during this challenging period so as to cover their bodies in full and safeguard against body contacts.

Seating arrangements

The seating arrangements must be spacious to minimize body contacts. Large classes will have to be split up into two or held in bigger halls or outside environments such as devotional stages and play grounds. Kindergartens and nursery kids should be particularly monitored by teachers and class attendants.

Health code of ethics

This should contain a simple directive that all pupils in primary schools must follow while in the school environment. It must be approved and enforced by the school authorities. A great deal of sensitization may be required at this level. Class attendants and Aunties in Nursery schools as well as parents have a great role to play in ensuring that kids behave and act in a safe and responsible way.

Ebola emergency units (EEU)

Because of the plethora of primary schools in the country, it may not also be practically feasible for every primary school to have an EEU in its environment. However, Zonal Ebola Treatment Centres may be designated to constitute a small team of health workers and medical personnel to cover certain amount of primary schools within a particular zonal group. Where possible, a team of health workers can cover both secondary and primary schools that might fall under a particular zone. This designated team (EEU) will be engaged in sensitization and monitoring, enforcement of health code ethics within  respective schools in the zones and also provide first aid care to affected cases and liaise with Treatment holding centres where things get out of control.

Ebola temperature checkers (etc)

Health personnel with temperature checkers must be stationed in each of the primary schools to do daily routine checks on every pupil and kids before they enter the school grounds for classes. This screening process must be made compulsory and the result of suspected cases treated with urgency. All private schools must ensure to get this equipment at their expense. Government can however subsidize where applicable.

Emergency ambulance and communication unit

A special ambulance team with emergency vehicles and communication systems must also be on the alert to attend to emergencies within this vulnerable population. A separate ambulance team must cover Primary and Nursery schools. They must operate an effective health emergency help line that is also known to all and sundry.

Cleaning of toilets, use of detergents, hand sanitizers and chlorine

Detergents, hand sanitizers and chlorine must be provided in large quantities and their use must be encouraged on a regular basis in schools. Toilets in secondary schools must be kept clean and decent at all times. Kids can be assisted by class attendants to regular washing of hands.

Use of synthetic gloves

Pupils in primary Schools should also be supplied and encourage to put on synthetic gloves at all times while in the school environment. They should also refrain from touching themselves, doing handshakes and body contacts while in school. Kids that are younger can be assisted with the putting on of their gloves.

Potential challenges to be encountered in primary and nursery schools

* Over-crowding.

* Small and less spacious classrooms.

* Large number of schools and pupils to deal with.

* Vulnerable nursery kids to deal with.

* Poor sanitary facilities and indecent toilet facilities.

* Lack of water supply in many schools.

* Vulnerable population in terms of observation of health code ethics.

POSSIBLE OUTCOMES OF THE PROPOSED EBOLA BACK TO SCHOOL ACTION PLAN

* Will make it possible for education and learning to take place in the country despite Ebola.

* Will prevent drop out and help reduce social vices among student populations.

* With effective preventive measures in place, the risk of transfer of the virus can be mitigated.

* Leads to change of heart and minds.

* Sends a right message to the world about efforts being made to move the country forward.

* Enhances confidence building to domestic and international investors.

* Opens up opportunities for investments to take place in the country.

* Possibility of Ebola outbreak in institutions but with adequate preventative mechanisms in place, things can be brought under control.

* Makes for real and objective assessment of risks and potential challenges to be known so as to inform better procedures and practices going forward.

RECOMMENDATIONS

E-learning should be embraced by the University of Sierra Leone in 2015

A comprehensive E-learning environment must be pursued in the University of Sierra Leone. A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) must be created going forward through which e-learning can be facilitated. A comprehensive and user friendly university website must be established with registered students maintaining a user name and password to access the e-learning portal to get information and materials. Ebola has awakened us on the need to embrace E- learning. This is the current 21st century mode of learning in the world today. The University of Sierra Leone must produce students that can compete in a 21st century world by embracing E-learning.

Internet connectivity and Wi-Fi services together with a well-structured computerized café and library systems must be maintained in all academic institutions going forward.

Regular water supply must be made available to institutions of learning

The Sierra Leone Fire force together with Guma valley and SALWACO must ensure the regular supply of water to institutions of learning and attend to pipe connections problems so to facilitate sanitation and good health hygiene practices during this period.

Phases in the Action Plan must be progressively realized and carefully rolled out

The Proposed Ebola Back to School Action Plan must be rolled over in phases. This division into phases is to determine actual or potential risks in the reopening of schools and be able to put the government in a better position to mitigate the transfer of risks as best as possible. A progressive realization will also show what area needs to be strengthened and the modalities that are needed to be put in place to deal with imminent challenges that will be observed. This will ultimately and successfully make possible the smooth roll-over of a comprehensive risk – free back to school action plan to the other cadre of institutions in the subsequent phases.

Monitoring, evaluation and reporting committee

A Special Committee that will monitor, evaluate and give report on the implementation of the ACTION PLAN must be instituted. It should comprise of members of NGO’s and civil societies as well as international agencies, health workers, the health Ministry, the National Ebola Response Committee and a state house rep. At the end of the two months period of each phase, they should give report to the President, Parliament and the Ministry of health respectively so that issues of concern will be addressed and a successful roll out of the next phase made possible.

Establishment of Lectures, Teachers and Parents Committees

These committees must be established and made functional to help provide daily assistance in educating their children on the health codes, ethics and basic hygiene.

CONCLUSION

No doubt, this Proposed Ebola Back to School Action Plan does not represent a magical wand. Furthermore, it does not also portend as a perfect buffer to Ebola within academic institutions of learning. What it does guarantee however, is a first preventive step and a due diligence mechanism which is absolutely crucial to scoring successes and limiting the occurrence of Ebola in academic institutions. For gains to be successfully and sustainably realized, it will further require a great deal of collective efforts, international support and good will, strong leadership, enormous resources and the ultimate intervention of the Divine.

NOTE: Rashid Dumbuya is an International Human Rights Advocate and Public Defender from Sierra Leone and is currently an LLM candidate in the University of Dundee, Scotland, United Kingdom.

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