Teachers in private and public schools can impart practical education to children about health care and sanitation

Member countries of the World Health Organisation (WHO) South East Asia Region, including Nepal, have resolved to work towards making 'every school a health promoting school'. They have also endorsed a policy of safe school operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. While addressing a virtual meeting of the WHO South-East Asia Regional Committee, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO, said schools can play an important role in promoting healthy lifestyles and lifelong healthy behaviours, and in nurturing human capital for sustainable development of any society. She stressed the need of a whole-of-government approach to ensure that children from all socio-economic backgrounds, including those with special needs, are benefitted.

The annual governing body meeting was hosted by Nepal virtually for the second consecutive year due to the pandemic. The regional committee meeting adopted a resolution to revitalise school health and health promoting schools. They expressed concern about the school closure for many months during the pandemic and its impact on the learning, growth and health of young children and adolescents. The member countries also deliberated on the need to ensure safe reopening and operaionalisation of schools during the ongoing pandemic. Nepal and Bangladesh are the two countries that have the longest weeks of school closure during the pandemic.

The five-day regional meeting also agreed to develop an integrated Regional Action Plan on viral hepatitis, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases in alignment with WHO's global and 2030 SDG targets. It also held discussions regarding the lessons learnt from the pandemic and the ways forward to strengthen health system resilience to ensure health security and achieve universal health coverage. They stressed on the need for quality health care services as well as strengthening health emergency security systems in order to be better prepared for future health emergencies.

In the context of Nepal's rural setting, the theme of 'every school a health promoting school' can play a vital role in reducing many communicable diseases in the community. The government has introduced a curriculum on health and sanitation at the school level. But the subject itself has been limited to theoretical classes. Teachers in both private and public schools can impart practical education to the children regarding general health care and sanitation, such as hand-washing, teeth-brushing, adopting simple and easy ways of purifying water for drinking purpose, nail-cutting and washing clothes. If children learn through a practical approach on these aspects at school, the same can be replicated at the community level without having to make additional investments on general health and sanitation. Many communicable diseases, such as diarrhoea and dysentery, can be controlled provided schools in the rural areas impart practical education on these issues.

The children can also be mobilised in the vaccination drives against COVID-19 and other health emergencies.

The practical education children learn at school will also help keep the communities neat and clean, free from refuse and environmental pollution.

Build the track

Nepal's railway history dates from 1927 during the Rana period, when a narrow-gauge track was laid from Amlekhgunj to Raxaul in British India. Another track was laid in 1937 connecting Janakpur in Nepal with Jainagar in India. While the first railway became defunct in 1965, the second railway has been rehabilitated only in recent times with Indian assistance.

For a country that remained largely roadless until the end of the last century, it was only logical for it not to give priority to railways. And in its absence, transporting people and goods in Nepal by road has remained expensive.

Thus, it is in the interest of the country to expand its railway network, including one that will connect Kathmandu with Raxaul. Preliminary study on the project shows that the Kathmandu-Raxaul track will be 135 kilometres long, and given the volume of goods flowing into the capital from India, the lower transportation charges should bring down their prices drastically. The government must push for the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries so that its construction can begin at the earliest. Other railway projects must also be promoted if industry is to flourish in the country.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 15 2021, of The Himalayan Times.