Schools to reopen for exams after H1N1 shutdown

KABUL, 17 November 2009 (IRIN) - The government has decided to reopen all schools from 23 November to 12 December to allow 7.5 million schoolchildren across Afghanistan to take exams.

On 1 November Afghanistan’s National Disasters Management Commission declared an H1N1 health emergency and ordered a shutdown of all schools and universities for three weeks. Up to nine million students and teachers were affected by the decision which was also criticized by some observers as "politically motivated".

Universities will remain closed and students will have to take their annual exams in the spring of 2010, officials said.

Over the past month more than 500 H1N1 cases and 14 fatalities have been confirmed, according to MoPH. In total over 820 H1N1 cases (Afghans and foreigners) have been reported since July 2009.

"Certainly we are concerned about the health of students during the exams," Faizullah Kakar, deputy minister in the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), told IRIN, adding that the UN World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva was consulted on the reopening of schools.

Schools in the cold regions (65 percent of schools) will be closed until March 2010 but in warmer regions - such as Kandahar, Khost and Nangarhar provinces - school will resume after 12 December, according to the Ministry of Education (MoE).

Preventive measures

MoE has given assurances strong H1N1 preventive measures will be implemented during the school exams.

"Students must wear warm clothes, avoid hand-shaking and wear masks where possible," Abdul Sabour Ghufrani, an official of the MoE in Kabul, told IRIN.

"Classrooms should be kept warm during the exams and students should be advised to comply with health and hygiene standards," said an MoE statement on 17 November. The exams will take place 10am-2pm.

MoE has procured “some” masks which will be distributed to the most vulnerable and poor students while the rest will be advised to buy them, Ghufrani said.

"Students [schoolchildren] who show signs of flu but do not wear masks will not be allowed to take the exams," he said, adding that these schoolchildren would have to take their exams in February 2010.

Washing hands with warm water and soap several times a day has been strongly recommended by health specialists as an effective measure to prevent contracting the highly contagious H1N1 virus, but soap is not available in Afghan public schools: "We do not have resources to buy soap and place it in all schools," Ghufrani said.

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

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