- The recent tragedy at Mukumu Girls, followed by Eregi Girls, serves as a reminder of the need for continued efforts to ensure learning institutions are safe and offer a conducive environment for learning.
- To ensure safe drinking water, regular water testing is recommended for all institutions.
- Continuous awareness campaigns, infrastructure and service monitoring, and strong stakeholder collaborations are encouraged.
By Dennis Okore & Cynthia Awino
Learners are an integral part of society, and parents leave no stone unturned to facilitate the safety of their children.
This includes minding the people their children associate with, the activities they get involved in, and what they consume as food or water.
With students spending more time in school compared to other places like home, ensuring public health in learning institutions is of utmost importance in Kenya.
The recent tragedy at Mukumu Girls, followed by Eregi Girls, serves as a reminder of the need for continued efforts to ensure learning institutions are safe and offer a conducive environment for learning.
Regular water testing and monitoring, as well as adherence to strict WASH protocols, are crucial in preventing waterborne diseases in schools and other institutions.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) should work with the Ministry of Education to implement these measures.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the critical role of WASH in protecting public health.
However, it is concerning that these efforts were scaled down after the pandemic, which may have contributed to the tragedy at Mukumu and Eregi Girls High Schools.
In order to ensure safe drinking water, regular water testing is recommended for all institutions.
In addition, there should be regular inspections of the school infrastructure involved in water distribution to facilitate access to safe drinking water for students.
It is also essential for schools to have dedicated School Health and Safety Officers who can collaborate with the Ministry of Education to develop guidelines and promote healthy practices among students.
Furthermore, increasing the number of public health officers and emphasizing hand hygiene are also crucial steps to be taken.
In a recent incident at Eregi Girls, students were admitted to the hospital due to an unidentified illness.
The initial lab results showed elevated levels of electrolytes in the students’ blood samples, an indication of severe diarrhea.
Moreover, for the communities near schools to be healthy, access to clean water and sanitary facilities in daily life is crucial.
The community as a whole may experience health problems and a decline in quality of life if this factor is neglected.
Efforts should thus be taken to maintain public health compliance in schools.
Continuous awareness campaigns, infrastructure and service monitoring, and strong stakeholder collaborations are encouraged.
However, it is critical to note that schools can only adequately tackle these concerns if they have in-house professionals in Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) to assist them.
These professionals can guarantee that schools follow applicable WASH practices and keep learners and staff safe and healthy.
Despite existing legislation, most schools, unlike companies, are not held to rigorous standards for Occupational Health and Safety compliance.
Policies and rules should now provide direction and allow schools to recruit these specialists, maybe through a common system at the county level.
In this example, one officer covers a set number of schools, conducting routine audits and collaborating with management to resolve difficulties.
Long-term gains can also be achieved by incorporating water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) education into school curricula and involving learners in learning institutions in decision-making processes.
This may be accomplished through open communication and feedback methods that encourage students to actively engage in keeping the learning environment clean and safe.
Furthermore, students and the community will be equipped with the essential skills required to identify any unusual changes surrounding WASH activities that may pose a danger to the health and safety of students and the community.
This will prevent or curb any looming disaster before it goes out of hand and people’s lives are affected.
Therefore, public health in learning institutions is a top priority in Kenya.
Sustained public engagement in WASH is necessary through awareness campaigns, monitoring, and partnerships.
Integrating WASH education and involving local communities around the schools can lead to long-term improvements in WASH practices, ultimately ensuring the well-being of students and the community as a whole.