Need for Senior High schools to have infirmaries

At least eight students have died in five Senior High Schools in less than four weeks across the country. Though the number of deaths reported can easily be quantified mathematically, the social, economic and psychological impacts of the loss of these lives are enormous and priceless. The deaths have been confirmed to be due to Influenza Type A H1N1 and Meningitis.

H1N1 and Meningitis are among the diseases classified as having the potential to spread fast leading to epidemics. These diseases spread mainly via droplets infection and contact with respiratory secretions of infected persons. As a result of this mode of transmission, congestion and overcrowding are some of the necessary factors for these diseases. It is important to note that overcrowding and congestion in the Senior High schools are not new.

The situation seems to have worsened after the roll out of the government’s flagship Free Senior High School policy. Though the policy has given relief to most parents and lauded by many a Ghanaian, it also comes with it some daunting challenges. School facilities such as classrooms and dormitories have undoubtedly been over – stretched.

The resultant widened teacher – student ratio makes it difficult for teachers to easily notice students who may not be well but had not reported to the authorities. Similarly, students who may be sick and hiding in their dormitories cannot easily be noticed by the class teacher. Either by coincidence or consequential, a number of disease outbreaks have been reported in some of these institutions in just the first term of the implementation of the free SHS policy. The number of these outbreaks and the associated deaths reported are unprecedented in recent times in the country.

Second cycles schools are required to have sick bays or infirmaries to cater for the health needs of the students. However in some of the second cycle schools, these facilities are either nonexistent or are poorly developed. In some instances, aside inadequate logistics in the sick bays or infirmaries, the personnel manning them lack the requisite up – to – date health knowledge to appropriately handle the ailments that are reported.

At best, the facilities are managed by retired health staff who are on contract but their physical deterioration may not permit them to put their expertise to the best use. Inappropriate detection of a disease does not only deny the patient the right treatment but the risk of transmitting the disease to others is increased.

To prevent further spread of diseases in schools, some stakeholders have called for immediate decongestion of the schools. While the government plans to provide a long lasting solution to the problem of congestion and overcrowding in the schools, there must be an emergency plan to establish well equipped sickbays and infirmaries in all Senior High Schools. The Ministries of Education and Health must collaborate to have skilled health personnel attached to all the sick bays or infirmaries to ensure prompt detection and appropriate management of sick students.

All second cycle schools would be going on vacation. There must be a comprehensive plan to monitor students from the affected schools until the known incubation period of the diseases are reached before they are allowed to go home. Appropriate linkages between the Ghana Education Service and the Ghana Health Service should be established so that follow – ups and monitoring will be done on all students who return home from the affected second cycle schools. This is to ensure that contacts who may develop the disease later can be detected early for prompt action to be taken.

BY CHRISTOPHER TAMAL. 
SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, LEGON.
0245743275

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