Lebanon's Ministry of Education prepares for cholera as school year starts

Lebanon's Ministry of Education prepares for cholera as school year starts
Officials have expressed concerns that public schools could provide an avenue for cholera to spread.
3 min read
20 October, 2022
Lebanon's public schooling system has suffered from years of underinvestment. [Getty]

Lebanon's Ministry of Education (MoE) has put in place preventative measures against cholera, a representative told The New Arab, amid fears that the disease could spread to schools as the academic semester starts.

Lebanon's Health Minister announced on Wednesday that there were five deaths and 169 cases of the waterborne disease in the country – the first time the country has seen an outbreak since 1993.

Cholera cases have mainly been concentrated among Syrian refugees, many of whom live in informal settlements with little access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Cholera is a disease contracted from water contaminated with faecal matter which can cause dangerous dehydration.

Officials have expressed fears that public schools, in particular, suffering from years of neglect, could potentially be another avenue for the spread of the disease.

Live Story

"Many of these schools don't have electricity and don't have proper toilets. Their sanitation facilities have really been neglected from years of under-investment. This is something that we're very worried about," Ettie Higgins, the deputy representative for UNICEF to Lebanon, told TNA.

Lebanon's public school sector has been crippled by the country's economic crisis, characterised by an erosion of public services and hyperinflation. Public school teachers often complain about a lack of resources, including electricity, and are often left to purchase their own supplies for the classroom.

Higgins added that UNICEF is working with water establishments so that they "prioritise schools on their networks."

To help prevent the spread of cholera, the MoE has created a task force and established precautionary measures in schools.

"The Ministry is conducting training and awareness sessions concerning the preventative measures related to the transmission of Cholera and Hepatitis A … covering both private and public schools," Hilda Khoury, the director of Counseling and Guidance at the MoE, told TNA.

On October 7, the MoE issued a circular which mandated teachers to educate students about preventative measures to avoid cholera, including proper hand washing. It also established procedures so that teachers could help with epidemiological surveillance of the disease.

Khoury said that the Ministry "is securing the needed materials" to maintain sanitation in "all public schools."

However, some teachers have said that they "haven't been provided anything" by the Ministry to prevent cholera.

"We are working with at least 250 students in the AM and then 250 in the PM. All of our students are refugees which is more dangerous," Ali Maes, a teacher at the Kab Elias Official School in the Bekaa valley, told TNA.

"Nobody is taking this seriously, you feel there is nothing happening. Only some posters have been hanged on the walls of the classes. If we continue like this, a disaster will happen in schools," Maes said.