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PAHO encourages safe return of children to schools

Published:Friday | January 28, 2022 | 10:08 AM
Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F. Etienne. - Contributed photo.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) member countries are being encouraged to take steps to facilitate the safe return to school for children who have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Director, Dr Carissa Etienne, notes that by promoting mask-wearing, physical distancing and ensuring adequate ventilation, countries can safely reopen schools, adding that “high vaccination rates among children are not a prerequisite”.

She was speaking during PAHO's weekly COVID-19 digital media briefing on Wednesday.

Etienne said youngsters across Latin America and the Caribbean continue to face the “worst educational crisis we have ever seen in this region,” with “millions of children yet to return to the classroom”.

She pointed out that with each day that children go without in-person learning, “the greater the likelihood that they [may] drop out and never return to the classroom, leading to lifelong consequences”.

Additionally, the PAHO director said the mental and psychological health of children and adolescents is being significantly affected and warned that this could potentially result in long-term consequences.

As such, Etienne said countries should endeavour to safely get children back to school to protect their social, mental, and physical well-being.

“For some children, schools are safe havens to learn, socialise, receive mental health support, and get a nutritious meal,” she noted.

The director said Ministries of Health, Education, and Social Protection “must work together to bring as many of our children as possible back to school,” emphasising that virtual learning “does not and cannot replace in-person schooling”.

She advised that PAHO has published detailed guidelines and considerations to facilitate the safe return to in-person learning.

“We also urge parents and caregivers to get their children caught up on routine immunisations by bringing them in for their medical check-ups,” she added.

Etienne emphasised that countries must also treat with routine immunisations as essential undertakings.

“These services were critical before the pandemic, and they remain central to our COVID-19 responses, so our children don't fall further at risk,” she noted.

- JIS News

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