Corona virus update:
Uganda. In October, the government announced that schools will remain closed for the country’s 10 million students at least until January 2022, despite what Johns Hopkins University reports as a very low national infection rate of just 67 deaths last month and fewer than 400 new cases nation-wide. Schools have been closed continuously for the past 18 months. The official explanation is to protect parents from being infected by students but all other public spaces, like markets and churches, are open.
As a result of the prolonged closure, the National Planning Authority estimates that 30 percent of students are unlikely to restart their education and over 3,000 primary and 800 secondary schools are likely to close permanently. Teachers are finding other ways to support themselves and abandoned school buildings are being repurposed for other uses.
Last month, the United Nations Population Fund reported that in Uganda, “adolescent girls have been deprived of the social protection that school offers and have been exposed to risks of sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, child marriages, and teenage pregnancies.” Estimates are that unwanted teen-age pregnancies have spiked 17-25% in the year and a half since schools closed.
In the past few weeks, the government took delivery of 2.2 million vaccine doses and expects to have a total of nearly 12 million by December. Currently just under 5% of the population of 44 million is vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy is rampant in rural areas based on safety fears. A 7 pm – 5.30 am curfew is still in place throughout the country.
Kenya. In the summer, Kenya announced its goal of vaccinating 10 million people by the end of this year. So far Kenya has administered nearly 6 million vaccine doses, enough to have vaccinated about 5.5% of the country’s population. Based on falling infection rates, Kenya lifted the nationwide curfew in October – it had gone into effect nearly one and a half years ago. Currently, under 5% of daily Covid-19 tests are positive.
Kenya closed schools for its 18 million students in March 2020, re-opened them in October 2020 for exams, and then fully re-opened them in January 2021. The non-profit Girls Education Challenge measured learning losses during the nine-month closure period and found, “The impact of school closures on the girls in our sampled schools has been stark – we find that girls have suffered very large learning losses in both math and reading.”
Kenya’s Presidential Policy and Strategy Unit conducted a study on The Impact Of Covid-19 On Adolescents In Kenya. It concluded that, “With the backdrop of school closures, economic challenges occasioned by the pandemic, and too much idle time on their hands, numerous adolescent girls faced teenage pregnancies and early marriages. The Ministry of Health information system records indicate that over 328,000 girls got pregnant in the first year of the pandemic – a significant number. As schools reopened a proportion of girls did not re-enroll due to inability to pay school fees and unintended pregnancies.”
Tanzania. The country’s vaccination campaign only kicked off this summer when President Hassan (who took office when President Magufuli, a pandemic denier, died this spring from what was widely speculated to be Covid 19 complications) received a highly publicized jab on national television. Since then, Tanzania has administered about one million doses of COVID vaccines to its population of 58 million.
In September, the government launched a program to increase vaccinations using mobile vehicles to reach marginalized communities and upping the number of vaccination centers from about 500 to over 6,000. Progress has been slow, with conspiracy theories and rumors about safety issues creating vaccine hesitancy, especially in rural areas. Infection rates have dropped, and fewer cases may also be contributing to vaccine hesitancy.
Tanzanian public schools closed for 4 months in Spring 2020 but have otherwise been open. A small survey of students in 15 schools in the Zanzibar district (including 10 secondary and five primary schools) revealed that at least 69 students dropped out of school during the period of the closure:15 students became pregnant, two students were married, four female students were subjected to sexual harassment, and 23 students engaged in child labor.
How WMI Can Help: The closure of schools in response to the Covid-19 virus has unleashed an ancillary pandemic disproportionately affecting teen-age girls. Unwanted pregnancies, forced adolescent marriages, and lost academic progress are threatening to deprive a cohort of school-aged girls with access to an education and future opportunities.
WMI and its local partners can assist with frameworks that support the safe return of girls to school after pregnancy. WMI can publicize and prioritize the reproductive health and rights of all young people, especially vulnerable, adolescent girls. We can continue to expand our girls/boys group program, which provides weekly sessions discussing topics such as sexual health and hygiene, as well as creative expression and business skills.
WMI’s mission to fund and train rural businesswomen is creating a network of empowered mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers who have the resources to reach out to adolescent girls in their villages who need their help to emerge from this unforeseen crisis.