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What should we do to prevent infectious diseases?

Tuesday February 16 2021
By Paul Owere

Hello Teacher Owere,

I am a teacher at an elementary school where recently there was an outbreak of an infectious disease that we have since contained.

However, our efforts were more of a ‘trial and error’ method - making me wonder what we could do in the future.


Outbreaks of diseases can sometimes bring institutions to their knees because it could bring operations to a complete halt.

Schools are ideal settings to encourage hand-washing and other good hygiene practices, which can contribute to children and staff learning effective ways to prevent infections.

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Schools involve a large part of the population who are often in close proximity to one another and are settings where diseases can spread quickly.

Effective communication in school settings can help to educate not only students and staff about good hygiene practices and other strategies, but also parents and other community members.

Healthy behaviours learned in schools can contribute to future health and well-being.

Gastrointestinal diseases, for example, are common, very contagious and can be severe. They are a significant cause of school absenteeism for both students and teachers).

An outbreak can lead to school closures and cause major disruptions for all members of the school community.

Actively engaging the whole school community in identifying ways to comply with existing hygiene regulations and/or develop new strategies and action plans for disease prevention can build resilience.

An implementation handbook provided with this toolkit details further how a ‘whole school’ approach shall be considered in order to engage with school communities to promote health.

At such circumstances a toolkit is necessary because it contains materials that can be used in support of the whole school in preventing infectious diseases.

The materials target different audiences, as all those involved in the school community can benefit from learning health generating behaviours and skills and have a role to play in either encouraging, supporting or implementing preventive measures.

This includes not only teachers and pupils, but also the school authorities, the staff such as cleaning and canteen staff, school nurses, parents and caregivers, as well as related stakeholders such as national and regional health and school authorities, and the local community.

School authorities have to communicate to staff, students.

A series of measures will need to be implemented, and these need to be clearly communicated (including also to parents) in order to ensure compliance.

Under such circumstances the school has to take measures such as informing students and staff who are ill with gastrointestinal symptoms not to come to school.

Restrict sharing of food brought from students’ and staff’s homes and snacks in classrooms or elsewhere.

Instead, the teacher should hand out items to be shared after washing his/her hands.

Stop using self-service food for example don’t let children serve themselves in any manner, which might promote direct hand contact with shared foods).

Food staff should not handle food if they have recently (in the last few weeks) been ill with any gastrointestinal symptoms until they can be interviewed or further evaluated by public health professionals.