Do not to allow fear or politics to harm SA's children - Paediatricians on school closure

07 August 2020 - 11:30 By Unathi Nkanjeni
Paediatricians say the benefits of pupils returning to school far outweigh the risks of their being infected by and infecting others with Covid-19.
Paediatricians say the benefits of pupils returning to school far outweigh the risks of their being infected by and infecting others with Covid-19.
Image: Thulani Mbele

As schools prepare to welcome back grade 7 pupils next week, the Paediatrician Management Group (PMG) and the SA Paediatric Association (Sapa) have urged government to open schools to all pupils, and not to allow fear or politics to harm children in the country.

Grade 7 pupils are set to return to school on Tuesday, a week after grade 12 pupils returned after a one-week break. Other grades are set to reopen on August 24.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the break following demands from teacher unions and some parents for schools to be closed during the peak of Covid-19 infections.

However, speaking out against the decision to again close public schools, the two paediatric bodies said this was not based on scientific evidence and was not in the interest of children.

The paediatricians said the benefits of pupils attending school outweighed the risks of Covid-19 infections in children and communities.

They said their view is guided by evidence provided by a range of research that points to the devastating consequences of children not attending school.

The paediatricians referred to a Covid-19 modelling study done in the UK which was based on the 2009 swine flu pandemic and the outbreak in severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

The study predicted school closures alone would possibly prevent only 2% to 4% of deaths.

“Those school communities which are at risk, either due to high local transmission rates or poor infrastructure, should be identified and supported immediately to mitigate their risks so they can reopen as soon as possible,” said the paediatricians.

“Where schools are unable to reopen, the department of basic education must ensure all pupils continue to have safe access to feeding schemes and adequate academic material via radio, television, cellphone applications and all other means necessary.”

The paediatricians said educators must be held accountable for providing ongoing academic support and material at all times.

Spokesperson Dr Fiona Kritzinger, a paediatric pulmonologist at the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town, said children aged 0-18 in SA account for only 5% of Covid-19 cases.

“Children and young people have a lower susceptibility to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (Sars-CoV-2), with 56% lower odds of being an infected contact,” said Kritzinger.

Last month, the Western Cape education department (WCED) confirmed that only 0.1 % of all pupils who had returned to school tested positive for Sars-CoV-2, and no deaths of pupils were reported to the WCED.

Kritzinger acknowledged that although this percentage was affected by the current Western Cape testing strategy, it was “nonetheless reassuring that the reopening of schools has not resulted in any significant outbreaks at a population level”.

To find out more about the studies paediatricians are producing as evidence to supply to government, click here.

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