5.3.1 Public health importance of school hygiene and sanitation
School children spend about one third of their time either in schools or doing school assignments, during which time they may be exposed to a variety of physical, social and psychological harm. Schools provide an ideal opportunity to detect poor hygiene practice by children.
The water supply and sanitation conditions of schools have become a public health concern in recent years. A Ministry of Health report in 2007 about school hygiene in Ethiopia indicated that the majority of surveyed primary schools did not have access to drinking water sources or adequate sanitation facilities for handwashing and excreta disposal. School dropouts are observed among female students due to a lack of latrines with facilities for menstrual hygiene. The report also found that the hygiene knowledge of the prevention of communicable diseases was poorly understood by students.
Other studies in Ethiopia among school children indicate that upper respiratory infections, skin infections, abdominal discomfort, eye infections, gastro-enteritis (diarrhoea) and tonsillitis are the commonest ailments for school clinic visits. Helminthic infections such as ascariasis and hookworm are prevalent because of the prevailing poor personal hygiene and waste management in the school and home environment.
The provision of school hygiene and sanitation ensures the rights of students to acceptable hygiene practices, safe water supply, latrines and a healthy school environment in general. The impact could have further beneficial effects, for example:
- Healthy environments facilitate more effective learning.
- Opportunities for students to gain life-long positive hygiene behaviours.
- Opportunities for increased school enrolment, retention and attendance for girls.