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Schools reopen as Liberia turns page on Ebola

Children returning to school after a long break
Children returning to school after a long break WHO Liberia

Liberian children began returning to school in Monday after lessons were delayed for months by the deadly Ebola outbreak.

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The new school term began a day after the leaders of Liberia and Sierra Leone, in their first trips abroad since the peak of the epidemic, vowed at a summit in Guinea to eradicate the virus by mid-April.

"Here in Monrovia children were coming back to school today. We went to one school this morning and saw how the school has implemented the protocols," a UNICEF spokeswoman told reporters.

"The youth were washing their hands before entering the school premises and their temperature was checked. The teachers were also talking to the students about how to stay safe, and Ebola preventive measures."

UNICEF has been at the forefront of introducing safety measures to combat the spread of the virus, which has claimed more than 9,000 lives across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses known to man, is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting.

Optimism tempered

All three countries have seen dramatic drop in infections compared with the peak of the epidemic in September and October.

Guinea's President Alpha Conde and his Liberian and Sierra Leone counterparts Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ernest Bai Koroma made a pledge to achieve "zero Ebola infections within 60 days" after day-long talks in the Guinean capital Conakry on Sunday.

Optimism that the worst is over has been tempered in Sierra Leone and Guinea, however, with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting the number of new Ebola cases rising for the second week running.

Some school principals in Liberia remain worried, meanwhile, that not everything has been done to ensure children’s safety as they return to classes.

“My school needs a complete renovation,” the head teacher of the NV Massaquoi Elementary and Junior High School told RFI, who explained that his establishment had been used as a treatment centre for Ebola victims.

“Many ill people died here,” he explained. “Everything here must be burned to restore confidence to the parents.”

Transmission ‘widespread’ in Guinea

Transmission remains "widespread" in Guinea, which saw 65 new confirmed cases in the week to February 8, and in Sierra Leone, which reported 76, according to the WHO.

Liberia, which has recorded the most deaths and was hardest hit at the peak of the epidemic in September and October, is leading the recovery, reporting just three new confirmed cases in that same week.

More than 1.3 million children have returned to school in Guinea with nearly all of the country's more than 12,000 schools back open, according to UNICEF.

UNICEF says it has been working closely with the Liberian government and local communities to develop the safety protocols already employed in Guinea.

Teachers have been trained to implement and monitor the safety measures, while soap and other hygiene materials have been distributed and mass mobilisation campaigns on Ebola prevention have been conducted nationwide.

UNICEF and its partners are handing out more than 7,200 hygiene kits for over 4,000 Liberian schools and training 15,000 teachers and school administrators in monitoring of safety protocols.

"UNICEF is supporting the ministries of education and health in our common goal of seeing all Liberian children back in school as soon as possible and as safely as possible," said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF's representative in Liberia.

"The provision of thousands of these kits, and ongoing training on the protocols is part of our commitment to the children of Liberia."

Sierra Leone plans to reopen its classrooms at the end of March.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
 

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