School Reopening Amidst Delta Variant Too Risky

It’s coming to two years since the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and its negative effects on our livelihoods rages on. We have lost loved ones, been sick ourselves, lost our jobs, businesses and our movements restricted to either our homes (Lockdowns) or countries (Travel bans). Like any other sector that pools people in one place, the education sector in Uganda has been badly hit by the pandemic. This is because teachers, pupils, students and suppliers interact physically, a recipe for disaster.

The entire school calendar has been turned upside down leaving all stakeholders either stranded or economically ruined respectively. Primary seven, senior four, senior six candidates have found it tough to sit exams and join the next education level and university final students have failed to hold graduations. This covid19 state of affairs has led to some Ugandans and international organisations like UNICEF to call for swift reopening of schools citing the negative effects resulting from prolonged closure such as teen pregnancies, child abuse or
even murder, teachers abandoning the sector, and school owners going bankrupt after losing their properties to lenders sending them into abject poverty. In all fairness to Uganda government and Ministry of Education in particular, opening schools in the middle of a raging pandemic would be a fatalistic gamble that puts lives of parents, teachers, students and entire communities at a high 
risk. Reopening must be guided by a risk – based approach to avoid escalation of infections and reclosures. Re-opening agitators must be aware that fighting Covid19 is a global effort, from lockdowns, flight restrictions, sharing scarce medical materials and now vaccines accessibility. There is no country that can isolate itself and deal with covid19 alone. To make matters worse, the world was caught flatfooted by the outbreak of covid-19 leaving physicians, researchers, public health expert and policy makers perplexed about the best way to deal with it. They may agree on vaccination but are not sure how many jabs, for which category, which vaccines offer long term protection and the side effects on a human body.

It’s from this background that i ask what informed a whole UNICEF chief of communication Mr James Elder to say “reopening schools cannot wait for all teachers and students to be vaccinated “really? We all now know that the delta variant infections among the unvaccinated 12-30 year
olds have been soaring in Europe and America. This age group makes the largest population in Uganda’s school system (Pupils, Students and Teachers) and most of them are yet to be vaccinated. But somehow, Mr. Elder wants Uganda to reopen schools before vaccinating them. I know multinational organisations thrive in chaos and disasters but we expect holistic advice based on facts. Mr Elder, an Australian himself, through UNICEF should instead make a case for Uganda and Africa in general to be availed vaccines that are being hoarded by the first world in

which he belongs. Over 125 countries in the developing world, are struggling to access vaccines with some yet to receive a single dose. Healthcare workers and the elderly are losing their lives. This is the area where we expected him to advise Uganda. Doctors Kiiza Besigye and Mary Nakabugo of UWEZO have been on TV saying Uganda faces a generational catastrophe because of closure of schools. However justified they are, opening schools without vaccination will endanger an even bigger generation. So why not vaccinate? This where Uganda needs UNICEF
and Mr James Elder’s influence, western countries have bought off all produced vaccines and booked those in the production pipelines. Uganda cannot find vaccines even when money is available. Vaccine hoarding is so bad that World Health Organisation chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has described it as “scandalous inequity”

Therefore, while the frustrations of closed schools is very understandable, we cannot pretend that the problem is caused by the government. Uganda is part of the global village, moreover the lower part of the village, our failures are intertwined with our village mates. To make matters worse, we have the new delta variant affecting younger people including infants. This makes opening schools even more dangerous to both pupils and teachers. Everyone has been affected by the pandemic economically, socially, medically and fatally. Whole economies have
suffered immensely, jobs lost and personal fortunes wiped out. The rationale of keeping school closed is that yes, we can lose properties, we can lose time but we can save lives that will carry the recovery after the pandemic is gone. It does not make sense to reopen schools before vaccinating enough teachers, pupils and students because if either group falls sick, we shall close and lose more time, money and much worse, lives again. Uganda has been through worse virulent pandemics, we shall overcome this one well.