Schools have reopened in Sierra Leone after a hiatus of more than eight months due to an Ebola outbreak. The deadly epidemic killed some 3,800 people and affected more than 12,000 in the West African country.
With more than 8,000 schools set to reopen in Sierra Leone, the country's health authorities and the United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, say they have taken all necessary measures for the safety of some 1.8 million pupils.
"All schools have been cleaned and disinfected by the authorities to make them safe," Minkailu Bah, the country's education minister, said Tuesday.
The officials have also provided rubber buckets, jerry cans, brooms, hand sanitizers and thermometers to schools. UNICEF conducted an Ebola prevention training for 9,000 teachers countrywide.
"This (schools' reopening) marks a major step in the normalization of life in Sierra Leone," said Roeland Monasch, a UNICEF representative in the country. "It is important that all children get into school, including those who were out of school before the Ebola outbreak. Education for all is a key part of the recovery process for the country," he added.
"Even as we put extra measures in place to make schools safe places to learn, we must continue to maintain vigilance in the fight against the disease until is completely eliminated," Monasch said.
Schools in Sierra Leone were scheduled to reopen in March, but the authorities decided against it after a surge in new Ebola cases that month. Sierra Leone's education ministry hopes to cover this year's academic curriculum despite the delay.
Neighboring Guinea and Liberia reopened schools in January and February respectively after the infections slowed down.
Sierra Leone has been successful in tracking down new Ebola cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Last week, only 30 new infections were reported in the country.
The lethal virus killed over 10,000 people, mostly in West Africa. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea were among the worst-hit countries.
shs/jr (AP, dpa)