The Federal government of Nigeria has promised to activate 60,000 Environmental Health Emergency Volunteers to cover schools in the 774 local governments in view of schools re-opening nation-wide.
The Honorable Minister of Environment, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar disclosed this in Abuja on Monday when he addressed the men of the pen profession, adding that in view of the Ministry of Environment collaborating with line Ministries on COVID-19, his Ministry is also working to realize the objectives of the Federal Ministry of Education’s guidelines on safe re-opening of schools and learning facilities.
Dr. Muhammad Mahmood stated that EHEVCs to be deployed would be working with other stakeholders at the Sub National levels in accordance with the guidelines for the safe re-opening of schools across the country.
According to the Minister, the role of the Environment sector generally and specifically was that of the participation of the Environmental Health practitioners including developing detailed protocols, establishment and maintaining prescribed hygiene standards and practices including water.
The Minister said, Sanitation and hygiene (WASH) provisions with additional measures of temperature checks and screening, hand hygiene coupled with access to adequate gender-segregated toilet facilities which is adequately ventilated, class rooms and hostel accommodation, use of face masks, proper food preparation and handling using HACCP (SOPs) as well as disposal wastes would all be applied.
Dr. Muhammad Mahmood opined that the duty of Environmental Health Officers is to immediately prioritize the setting up of Schools Environmental Health Clubs where none existed prior to COVID-19 pandemic will be a threat.
The Minister however, advised that the EHOs ensure that the Clubs should essentially be run by selected learners who will help in implementing directives of the Teacher-driven School hygiene committees.
He further advised the school proprietors to engage the services of Environmental Health Officers who will be responsible for WASH programs and activities in the schools including regular and routine sanitary inspection of school premises adding that in a situation where individuals do not have financial capacity, a cluster of three or more schools could engage one on retainership.
He added that schools wishing to outsource terminal and concurrent Decontamination/Disinfection are enjoined to adhere to the provisions of the National Environmental Health Practice Regulations 2016 by engaging only persons and firms licensed by the Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria for the safety and healthful living of Learners and Teachers as only Decontamination Certificates issued by licensed professionals who practice nationwide are valid.
The Honorable Minister of Environment hinted that according to enunciated guidelines, “EHOs in the Federal, State Ministries of Environment as well as those in the LGA Environmental Health departments shall be of the Joint Assessment Teams for safe Re-opening of Schools and Learning facilities which are part of the authorized Assessors”.
Dr. Muhammad Mahmood reiterated that the Ministry will monitor compliance with prescribed standards through a network of monitoring and evaluation teams across the nation; adding that all Environmental Health departments across the country would work collaboratively with respective education ministries and departments in order to succeed.
On the omission of the re-opening of the Tertiary Institution by the Honorable Minister of Environment, the Acting Registrar, Dr. Baba Yakubu Mohammed said, the institution were not omitted that the Federal Government had a rolling plan on easing of the lockdown and that everything is in stages adding that recently the Federal government opened up the 19,000 Examination centers for WAEC, now the secondary schools are being re-opened as directed by the PTF, so it is a gradual process, he enthused.
According to the Registrar, other learning institutions too are part of Nigeria and he believed that the Federal Government are making efforts to gradually open them so that at least the guideline issued would be released intermittently as the lockdown is being eased out.
Dr. Baba said in as much as COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, the Environmental Health volunteers are going to continue to mount surveillance desk and making sure that the protocol guidelines issued by the PTF are adhered to by all learning institutions in the country.
Kehinde A. Openibo
Head, Public Affairs