Zambia is currently experiencing an unusually large outbreak of cholera, a highly infectious disease that is affecting all sectors, including education. Due to the severity of the outbreak, the government announced on January 4, 2018 that they would delay the start of the national school calendar, which typically begins mid-January, until further notice. Although incidences of cholera occur every rainy season in certain urban slum areas of the capital city, Lusaka, this year’s season has brought more cases of this disease that spreads rapidly through infected food and water and causes acute watery diarrhea that can kill within hours if not treated. As of January 14, 2018, reports from reputable news agencies cite at least 3,100 cases and approximately 72 deaths. Many schools throughout Zambia include boarding facilities, so the delay in opening is to ensure that conditions in schools meet the required sanitation standards prior to students’ arrival. In heavily affected areas, the government has banned gatherings in marketplaces, churches, funerals, and weddings. There are also reports that the government will temporarily halt the issuance of passports until the outbreak is contained.
These measures may affect high school students in the following ways:
1) Depending on how late schools open, students and teachers will have to make up for missed time as Grade 12 students prepare for their crucial national leaving examinations in November 2018. Holidays in April and August may be shortened to make up for the delay, or students will be required to cover more material over a shorter period of time.
2) For students who live outside of Lusaka, many might delay travel plans back to the capital city, where the majority of cases have been reported. Therefore, they may be unable to respond to admissions and application e-mails if they do not have adequate Internet access at their homes.
3) If a student obtains admission to an institution abroad, they may have difficulty obtaining the proper identification documents for travel, including their NRCs and passports in a timely manner.
This current situation resulting from the cholera epidemic and as a result a late school opening in Zambia, is a quickly evolving situation, and the rate of new cases appears to be slowing, so the government is optimistic. However, the outbreak is not completely under control, and more rain could exacerbate the situation. Recent reports indicated that private and government schools would be allowed to open as early as January 22nd, but somer in affected areas remain closed, and public universities are still closed until further notice.
This post was jointly written by HALI members based in Zambia – Jessica Clarkson of USAP Zambia and Helen Leale-Green of Our Moon.