2 in 5 schools around the world lacked basic handwashing facilities prior to COVID-19 pandemic , a report by UNICEF, WHO said.

As schools worldwide struggle with reopening, the latest data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) reveal that 43 per cent of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019 – a key condition for schools to be able to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"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."

According to the report, around 818 million children lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools, which puts them at increased risk of COVID-19 and other transmittable diseases. More than one third of these children (295 million) are from sub-Saharan Africa. In the least developed countries, 7 out of 10 schools lack basic handwashing facilities and half of schools lack basic sanitation and water services.

The report stressed that governments seeking to control the spread of COVID-19 must balance the need for implementation of public health measures versus the associated social and economic impacts of lockdown measures. Evidence of the negative impacts of prolonged school closures on children’s safety, wellbeing and learning are well-documented, the report said.

"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." (ILKHA)

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