More than 40 per cent of students worldwide – around 818 million – lack access to basic hand-washing facilities in the classroom.

But hand hygiene provision is a key requirement for the safe reopening of schools, claim the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF.

According to UN data there are currently 1.6 billion students worldwide in 190 countries, 43 per cent of whom lack access to soap or water or both. A third of these pupils live in sub-Saharan Africa and in the least developed countries, seven out of 10 schools lack basic hand-washing facilities.

The World Health Organisation and UNICEF have teamed up to issue a report setting out guidelines for the safe reopening of schools this autumn.

“Access to water, sanitation and hygiene services are essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including schools,” said WHO general manager Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “It must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.”

The report encourages governments to balance any public health measures against the social and economic impacts of student lockdowns. And it cites substantial evidence of the negative impacts of prolonged school closures on children.

“Global school closures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and well-being,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore. “We must prioritise children’s learning and ensure that schools are safe to reopen – with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation.”

Published 24th of August 2020