Many schools in Liberia have reopened, six months after they were closed to try to curb the spread of Ebola.Pupils welcomed the move, but some raised fears that the deadly disease had not yet been totally eradicated.
Staff at school gates were equipped with thermometers to take pupils’ temperatures and buckets of chlorinated water for them to wash their hands.
Liberia was one of three West African states worst affected by the Ebola outbreak, identified in March 2013.
More than 9,000 people have been killed by the virus, but there has been a general decline in the number of cases in recent weeks.
‘Rural schools still shut’
Only three new confirmed cases were reported in Liberia in the week leading to 8 February, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The leaders of the three states – Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Guinea’s Alpha Conde and Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma – pledged at a meeting in Guinea’s capital Conakry on Sunday to achieve “zero Ebola infections within 60 days”.
Guinea reopened its schools a month ago and Sierra Leone plans to do so at the end of March.
Many schools in rural areas are not yet ready to open as they lack basic equipment such as chairs and soap, says the BBC’s Jonathan Paye-Layleh in the capital, Monrovia.
Deputy Education Minister Remses Kumbuyah told our reporter he was confident the schools would reopen in the next two weeks.
The government had put in place many preventative measures to prevent the spread of Ebola in schools, he said.
“We are asking all the school administrators to ensure that a classroom should not have more than 45 or 50 students. In the past they used to have 100 or more,” Mr Kumbuyah said.
Paul Toe, the dean of students at the Catholic-run Saint Michael High School in Monrovia, said the closure of schools had a psychological effect on pupils.
He also said some of the school’s pupils are now pregnant because they have not been at school and their parents “cannot control them” at home.
Theresa Larmah, 22, who was heading for a computer lesson at the Richard M. Nixon High School in the city when our reporter spoke to her, said that the closure of schools had been a good way to fight Ebola but the more “we sit at home, the more we go backward.”
Another pupil, Eric Blackie, said that with Ebola not yet wiped out “we will be afraid to touch each other in class, some colleagues will be afraid to come around; but we cannot just be sitting at home”.