Death in the schools
That two students of Queens College Lagos died the other day from diarrhea outbreak in the school while scores of others were hospitalised is shocking and highly regrettable. This case should be thoroughly investigated to unravel the cause of the outbreak and to prevent recurrence.
Queens College, by all standards, is one of the elite schools in Nigeria that over the years maintained an enviable record of high academic performance, moral rectitude and good upbringing of students, which would not have been possible without a tradition of committed management or good school administration. All of that may have changed along with the general decay in the country.
That being the case, news of the death of the students has jolted many people, especially parents and guardians, the federal and Lagos State government authorities.
Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole has appropriately directed the Lagos State Ministry of Health and the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths.
The death of the students has thrown up many questions about the state of hygiene in all schools. While the bereaved parents allege negligence on the part of the school authorities, preliminary reports claim the victims died from cholera outbreak caused by contamination of the school’s water system, a development that needs to be investigated.
Others allege that the toilets were not properly maintained. Certainly, only a thorough investigation will unravel the truth and establish the veracity of these claims.
However, the state of cleanliness or hygiene at Queens College may not be different from what obtains in practically all public schools in Nigeria.
As a matter of fact, the Queens College incident is a metaphor for what is happening in all parts of the country.
To start with, lack of public water supply is a serious handicap to proper hygiene in schools. Because there is no water, the toilets are often left in a messy condition while users of such filthy toilets are exposed to infectious diseases including cholera.
It is unimaginable that today, many public schools and institutions in Nigeria are still using pit latrines. In June, a seven year-old pupil died after falling into one at Alapere in Kosofe Local Government Area of Lagos State.
Again, in September 2015, there was confusion at Fasok Nursery and Primary Schoo, Ketu, after a missing five-year old primary pupil identified as Kehinde Toba was found dead in an open pit latrine.
Many of these heart-rending incidents happen every now and then. There are in fact students in many schools who don’t even have the luxury of pit latrines but defecate in the open, thereby exposing themselves and the rest of the community to danger!
This appalling unhygienic situation is not limited to schools. Reports from across the country indicate that most of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) orientation camps are closer to death camps as a result of the poor living condition.
All these horrible experiences point to the fact that things have really gone so bad with Nigeria.
Diarrhea is a highly contagious disease that can be spread from person to person through dirty hands and contaminated food and water. The saving grace in the Queens College case was that it happened, while the students were on mid-term, which made the school authorities to extend the break by one week to enable investigations to be carried out. Otherwise, the fatalities would have been more.
One way to deal with diarrhea is by observing simple hygiene. The kitchen must be clean and food properly cooked and served. Water must be available and all should be made to wash their hands frequently.
The compound should be kept clean. Above all, the toilets should be clean and disinfected on regular basis. Students should be discouraged from purchasing food carelessly from vendors.
It needs to be reiterated that in the good old days, living in school dormitories was pleasurable. The beddings were sparkling clean and the food was of high quality. School inspectors were ever at hand to ensure that things were in their proper order and quality was maintained.
But all of that is now history.
Without immediate intervention, the future of the country is bleak. There is need for serious improvement in infrastructure facilities in schools. Something as basic as conveniences should be given priority attention because of the health implications.
The school sick bay should be equipped and manned by humane health personnel. Quite often, the unfriendly conduct of health workers compound the problem that should have been minimised if handled properly.
Finally, parents should educate their wards on how to manage their affairs while in school. It is not enough for parents and guardians to dump their wards in school, monitoring is important. Learning starts from the home, as proper upbringing is necessary in a child’s life and the school alone cannot do the job.