The WHO is now urging governments in Africa to promote the safe reopening of schools with proper measures to prevent learners from getting infected with the viral disease.
“Schools have paved the way to success for many Africans. They also provide a safe haven for many children in challenging circumstances to develop and thrive,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
Keeping students at home in a bid to protect them from Covid-19 infections is harming them in other ways, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef said in a statement on Friday.
According to the WHO, the impact of an extended education disruption is significant and stretches beyond learning institutions into homes.
“Some of the consequences of extended closure include poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood pregnancies and overall challenges in the mental development of children due to reduced interaction,” says the WHO.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, Unicef has noted increased violence against children with reduced nutrition rates as more than 10 million are missing school meals.
“For girls, especially those displaced or living in low-income households, the risks of malnutrition and violence are even higher,” the statement reads.
Economic losses caused by the closure are also a cause of worry for economists.
World Bank estimates indicate that school closures in sub-Saharan Africa could result in lifetime earning losses of $4,500 per child
Additionally, parents forced to stay in homes that cannot afford to hire nannies or caregivers are restricted from seeking outside work to boost family incomes.
This may also be worsened by reduced earnings as they stay at home to take care of the children.
Meanwhile, learning institutions are closed in 14 countries and partially open in 19 others for examination purposes.
Currently, 12 countries are planning to resume classroom learning in September, which is the start of the academic year in some countries.
The effect of school closures due to emergencies has been documented before.
For instance, pregnancy rates among teenagers in Sierra Leone doubled, with many girls unable to continue their education when schools reopened after extended closures triggered by the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak.
Unicef Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mohamed Malick Fall, said the closure poses a big risk to future prospects for the self-advancement of affected children.
“The long-term impact of extending the school shutdown risks ever greater harm to children, their future and their communities,”he said.