By Dr. Atish Laddad
Founder & Director at Docterz
Children tend to spend most of their time in schools and other childcare settings. Schools and educational institutes hence tend to establish an exclusive setting to facilitate children and adolescents in developing an optimistic outlook on life and aid them in establishing a healthy lifestyle. Yet the worldwide rates of morbidity estimates in children and juveniles recommend that school-aged kids have noteworthy requirements for health upgrade, prevention for ailments and a need to acquire appropriate health care services even while at school.
It is essential to note that due to their developing immune systems, children are particularly susceptible to falling trap to infections and contagions like cold, flu and cough while being in the school premises and have great odds of spreading these diseases rapidly to other students due to their faulty hygiene practices and most importantly the school's dense population. Hence for most students, appropriate and first-rate school health services within the premises are the foremost and the most reachable point of contact during a time of emergency during school hours. Taking these prime aspects into consideration schools and other educational institutions along with focussing on offering excellence in academics must also emphasize on offering the best healthcare services with a sole aim to offer school-age children with preventive, healing and supportive medical interventions.
The factor of contributing to every child’s well-being while at school is of prime importance. Hence in current times the school-based providers and authorities are inclined towards offering a superior and diverse range of child healthcare services to students. These appropriate preventive steps are designed to draw a safety net around the students, thus guarding them from falling trap to unwanted infections and ailments:
Incorporating a holistic medical programme: This is an important step that schools need to undertake in this direction. These constructive medical programmes encourage schools to promote child healthcare within their premises, thus ensuring that the physical, mental, emotional and psychological health of a child is thoroughly taken care of. Having a medically-equipped casualty room within the school premises will facilitate in efficiently handling a broad range of medical maladies, like unexplained aches and pains to injuries and life-threatening conditions like cardiac arrests and burns and most importantly will help in early detection of ailments. To oversee emergency cases, skilled pediatricians must pay visits to the school and they must have on-board a 24/7 helpline number in case of emergencies. These remedial platforms have to be designed in a way to arm schools, parents and teachers to offer optimum healthcare to students, thus helping to recover the child’s health within the school premises.
Annual physical and mental health screening: School physicians have a very integral role to play in safeguarding the child’s mental and physical well-being. This can be achieved by routinely or annually conducting adequate physical and cerebral health screening for school students. Considering the importance of upholding good physical health of the child to avert being infected, schools must undertake timely physical screening of students which should encompass aspects like scoliosis evaluations, blood pressure readings, checking blood sugar levels, pulse rate, measurement of height and weight, testing for tuberculosis and even physical exams pertaining to full body check-ups may be conducted. Post lockdown once the schools reopen, it is all the more integral for schools to control various extracellular pathogens from affecting student’s health. Post lockdown operations like mass testing and screening of the child's health status must be a part of the school’s defensive strategies. They must keep a track of high-risk students like those suffering from diabetes or heart ailments. Along with prioritizing the physical health of students, equal importance needs to be placed on mental health too.
Schools must adapt the practice of screening with infra-red thermometers at the school entrance. Defibrillator machines ideally should be there in every school and the school health data should be analysed and ways and measures need to be incorporated to improve it.
Emphasis on getting pediatricians inside school campuses: Once the schools reopen post the pandemic, the school authorities should take all the necessary precautionary measures like getting on board a skilled pediatrician within the premises to perform an effective screening of all students and educators post resuming and must gauge the overall health of the school. In case any child falls ill even after the school reopens, they must be given treatment on priority to rule out any possibility of infections from spreading. Once schools reopen, they can also conduct a workshop on the dangers associated with a pandemic where-in the pediatrician can address students about the risks and preventive measures. They can also provide CPR training to higher standard students.
Practicing social distancing in schools post reopening: Physical distancing and other safeguards against transmission of viruses should remain in place for an extensive time period at schools even after stay-at-home orders are lifted. Even after the schools reopen there is a high peril of students falling prey to infections post coming in contact with infected students. Hence to avoid this, schools must focus on condensing mass crowding even after the schools start. This can be done by minimizing the number of students attending school. The schools should incorporate a protocol by which only about a minimal percentage of pupils that is about 15 students can attend classes while others can undertake online classes via virtual media. This can be done on a rotational basis.
Prioritizing hand hygiene in schools: The bearing of faulty hand hygiene habits is associated with augmented incidences of illness and school absences. As an answer to this, schools must undertake a comprehensive hand hygiene programme right from the elementary level to high schools to reduce the spread of microorganisms and germs. These effective programmes will help to strategize and broadcasting proper handwashing techniques, thus reinforcing proper personal hygiene. Even once the schools start functioning, they should undertake awareness programmes on hand-washing, workshops to alleviate misconceptions about infections and viruses and must encompass, the right protocols for food hygiene and sanitation and to manage children with fever in the current context.
Regular cleanliness through hygiene programmes in schools: School sanitization and hygiene education are vital in safeguarding against infectious ailments. Hence as a part of the school's hygiene drive, the educational institutions must undertake steady cleanliness and hygiene programmes in school premises to facilitate schools in implementing strategies to endorse sanitation in schools. Considering the fact that chances of contracting infections are high during monsoons, the school must be equipped with an appropriate tool kit to curb monsoon illness. Rainy seasons are said to record a steady rise in body temperature, gastro problems and a surge in the number of dengue and malaria cases. Have an effective sanitization programme within the school premises ensures an improved behaviour through expedient practices connected to personal, water, food and public hygiene.
Apart from these above-mentioned measures, the schools should have on-board skilled nurses and physicians for the purpose of screening and examination of students even in times of emergencies.