Almost two in five schools worldwide lacked basic soap-and-water hand-washing facilities prior to the coronavirus pandemic, a World Health Organisation report said.
The report based on latest data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) reveals that 818 million children were affected, putting them at higher risk of being infected with COVID-19 and other transmittable diseases.
Only 355 million of the children went to schools which had water facilities but no soap, while the rest had no facilities at all. More than one-third of the cases are from sub-Saharan Africa. About 7 out of 10 schools lack basic handwashing facilities and sanitation services in the least developed countries, the joint report read.
Other key findings of the report stated that over 60 countries are at the highest risk of health and humanitarian crises due to the virus. One in 3 schools had either limited drinking water service or no drinking water service at all, while 698 million children lacked basic sanitation service at their school.
The report comes as the countries hustle to reopen schools with safety measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The report has urged governments to not just seek solutions of curbing the spread of the virus but also focus on strategies for the safe reopening of schools and implementing the basic public health measures, as essential to hygiene services is equally important for effective infection control.
"Global school closures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children's education and wellbeing. We must prioritize children's learning. This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen -- including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation," said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.
The agencies' report also mentioned measures necessary for COVID-19 prevention and control in schools, with guidelines on cleaning and disinfection, as well as handwashing stations and safe toilets that are issued by UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP.