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At media dialogue, UNICEF decries academic disruptions caused by COVID-19

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By Gabriel Chy Alonta

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has decried school disruptions globally occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the world body, an estimated 1.8trillion hours of learning (still counting) is reported to have been lost by school children globally since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in various countries

The Communication Specialist, Mr. Geoffrey Njoku, made this known in Enugu at a 2-day National Media Dialogue organized by UNICEF in collaboration with the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information on Demand Creation for COVID-19 Vaccine.

Njoku was quoted as saying, “School children around the world have lost an estimated 1.8 trillion hours – and counting – of in-person learning since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. As a result, young learners have been cut off from their education and the other vital benefits schools provide.”

“Globally, around 131 million school children in 11 countries have missed three-quarters of their in-person learning from March 2020 to September 2021.

“Among them, 59 percent or nearly 77 million have missed almost all in-person instruction time. Around 27 percent of countries continue to have schools fully or partially closed.

“Additionally, according to UNESCO’s latest data, more than 870 million students at all levels are currently facing disruptions to their education”.

Mr. Njoku said it was paramount for all Nigerians within the allowed age bracket to take the COVID-19 vaccines, advising that they ignore the conspiracy theories, myth and misconceptions about the vaccines and avail themselves for vaccination to mitigate spread of the virus.

According to him, “the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective to combat the transmission of the virus. We must all discountenance the conspiracy theories, myth and misconceptions about the vaccines and get ourselves vaccinated in this country to ensure that our children are also protected and their education not disrupted any further due to lockdown.”

In a remark, Health Specialist and Officer in Charge of UNICEF Enugu Field Office, Dr. Olufemi Adeyemi decried that despite Nigeria recording its index case in early 2020, the virus “is still ravaging and depleting the world’s major population by the hour and by the day.

“Though considerable progress is being made by Federal Government of Nigeria, UNICEF and other development agencies to ensure the spread of COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control through importation of vaccines and accessibility to vaccines, we still face serious challenges in the areas of public hesitancy, unwillingness and conspiracies against the COVID-19 vaccines, making efforts of government, partners and donors unreciprocated.

“UNICEF and partners recognize the active role the media has continued to play right from the onset of the COVIID-19 pandemic by ensuring correct and timely messages about the pandemic is disseminated to the public while at same time, enabling rapid and wide spread reach of public health information.

“We have continued to see an upward trend for the promotion of health and hygiene practices by the media in Nigeria, by daily communication to the public of protocols enforced by the government to prevent spread of COVID-19, reinforcement of useful messages on safe health practices such as increased hand washing, use of face coverings, and social distancing.

“UNICEF and partners will continue to respond to the four COVID-19 response pillars adopted by Nigerian government in line with NCDC’s guidelines by emphasizing the imperative role of the mass media in today’s fight against COVID-19 with huge reliance on that fact through levels of concerted collaborations with media and related communication outlets for reinforcement of messages on equal access to heaithcare, ending discrimination, and social stigmatization by providing daily updates to public on ways to combat the pandemic and remain safe.”
In his speech, the Enugu state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Ikechukwu Obi who was represent by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Dr. Ifeanyi Agujiobi said the state government had continued to give necessary support to all agencies and organisations in the fight against the virus”.

In a presentation titled “Debunking rumours and conspiracy theories against COVID-19 vaccines/vaccination, Dr. Obasi Chikezie of the Community Medicine Department, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT, Teaching Hospital, observed that averagely in Nigeria, two in every 100 persons that contract COVID-19 dies.

He noted that given the very high cost of treating the virus, “the most cost effective way of eliminating the disease is vaccination.”

He illustrated some of the deceitful and false theories being propagated about the vaccine through the social media like the lightening of electric bulbs. Dr. Chikezie appealed to Nigerians to shun such theories and make themselves available for vaccination and save others from contracting the virus.

“Today you can hardly see children with polio myelitis, it has been eliminated because of the wide vaccine courage but before we got here with polio there were also conspiracy theories about the vaccine. But we are all enjoying the benefits of the polio vaccine today.

“So in essence, vaccination has offered us the opportunity of cheaper platform to avert death arising from the virus and we must go out there and take it to secure our lives and those of our children and family members.”

He listed among others that the vaccines would prevent community infections and reduce severity of the disease and urged the media to intensify the campaign to check vaccine hesitancy, complacency and the people’s lack of confidence in the vaccines in order to scale up response to achieve mass vaccination in the country.

Dr. Chikezie also cautioned against taking different brands of the vaccines because embarking on such could be counterproductive.

Also in a presentation titled “COVID-19: Vaccination as a life saver, Dr. Nwachukwu Ugwunna of the Community Health Department, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH Enugu noted that COVID-19 had put health systems under tremendous pressure.

While emphasizing the importance of vaccination to mankind, Dr. Ugwunna stated that the WHO had estimated that childhood vaccination saves four million lives yearly.
He also harped that equitable access to vaccine was important in the campaign to record mass vaccination of Nigerians.

According to Ugwunna, “being vaccinated does not mean that we can throw caution to the wind and put ourselves and others at risk of contracting the virus.

“Moreover, it is not the vaccine that will stop the pandemic, it is vaccination. So we must all get vaccinated to protected our lives, the lives of our loved ones and children to avert unnecessary deaths and lockdown that would also negatively impact our lives as well as the school calendar of our children.”

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