Dr. Kaducu explained that after evaluating experts’ views, it was noted that closing the schools earlier will reduce areas of concentration where children are in close contact daily. Children are said to be at high risk of contracting Ebola since they require daily contact with their peers and caregivers. According to the World Health Organisation, when contracted, children are at higher risk of dying from Ebola compared to adults.
Available statistics show that 23 children have contracted Ebola since the outbreak was first confirmed in Uganda. Eight of these have died, 5 have fully recovered and 16 are still under isolation. The first cases among school-going children were confirmed in Kampala when 6 children from three different schools in Lubaga tested positive. One of the children succumbed to Ebola and 170 contacts were identified.
Cases have been identified in five schools in Kampala, Wakiso, and Mubende districts. The announcement by the Ministry of Education means that the term, which had earlier been scheduled to end on December 9 will close for the third term holidays on Friday, November 25. With the new closing date, the minister also noted that schools are required to immediately prepare for promotional and end-of-year assessments effective next week.
Ismael Mulindwa, the Director of Basic Education in the Ministry of Education, says that although the term has been cut short, learners will not be affected. “These are just two weeks. Our learners will not lose. But if we evaluate and see that there is some learning loss, we will make sure that the lost days are recovered in next year’s calendar,” Mulindwa said before warning schools not to hold end-of-year school parties and speech days.
How learners will return home
Drawing from the COVID-19 experience where many learners were stuck in taxi and bus parks and ended up becoming super-spreaders of the virus, the ministry of education says that this time around the return will be conducted under strict guidelines.
According to guidelines, which have been seen by our reporter, Students without Ebola symptoms in boarding schools or sections located in either Mubende or Kassanda districts will be allowed to return home as per the normal official closing date.
“Any learner in the boarding section who has Ebola-related symptoms shall first be evacuated and isolated in a facility or tested for Ebola by the field surveillance team before being declared free to go home,” the guideline reads in part.
The guidelines further show that any learner in the boarding section who is a contact with a confirmed or suspected Ebola case shall be quarantined within his/her school or designated facility and followed up daily for 21 days after exposure by the field surveillance team and verified as safe before being declared Ebola-free and returned to return home.
Mulindwa says returning of students will be conducted in a staggered manner with candidates moving as soon as they complete their examinations. “Arrangements are being made by the ministry of works and transport to see how this will be handled but we will be guiding on which class will be going home when,” he added.
Transport arrangements and pick-up points for learners moving to or out of Mubende and Kasanda districts shall also be agreed upon between the schools, education officers, and District task force and communicated to parents in time. The Ebola outbreak in Uganda was detected on September 19, 2022. The virus has since spread to seven districts, according to the last figures shared by the health ministry. At least 135 cases have been confirmed and 53 deaths.
On October 15, President Yoweri Museveni ordered a three-week lockdown in Mubende and the nearby Kassanda districts. The lockdown in the two Ebola-affected regions was extended on Saturday for an additional three weeks. The president reiterated his opposition to the proposed lockdown of the entire country to stop the spread of the disease despite the rising cases.