Most Read

  • AI and retail: A South African conundrum
    AI and retail: A South African conundrum
    Artificial intelligence (AI) is being successfully deployed in the global retail sector, but it needs to be used carefully in the South African context, taking into account specific market characteristics. By Wendy Tembedza
  • Paula Hulley
    Paula Hulley, IAB SA CEO, steps down
    Haydn Townsend, IAB SA chair has announced that Paula Hulley, IAB SA CEO will not be renewing her contract into 2022.
  • Let’s Talk Digital is hosted by Audrey Naidoo
    Let's Talk Digital podcast launches on Bizcommunity
    This September, Let's Talk Digital, a new multimedia offering launches on Bizcommunity. The bi-weekly podcast, hosted by Audrey Naidoo and produced by Tyran De Beer, features conversations with leading voices in the SA digital marketing and media space.
  • Helen R. McIntee, president of the African Marketing Confederation
    The AMC announces relaunch
    The African Marketing Confederation (AMC) has announced its relaunch, with updated vision and goals. The AMC is a pan-African body of marketing professionals with the aim to bring national marketing bodies and associations of nine countries together.
  • Red & Yellow partners with Unilever on BCom in Marketing degree
    Red & Yellow partners with Unilever on BCom in Marketing degree
    A partnership between the Red & Yellow Creative School of Business and global FMCG giant Unilever looks to produce future-fit graduates ready for the challenging and rewarding world of marketing.
  • South Africa's proposed Startup Act to be revealed soon
    South Africa's proposed Startup Act to be revealed soon
    On 16 September, startup ecosystem stakeholders will be revealing the latest findings and plans towards the development of a proposed South African Startup Act - a call to the president to unleash the growth and innovation inherent in the country's entrepreneurs and youth. These findings, gathered over the past six months via desktop research, focus groups and research contributed by the World Bank, provide a holistic overview of the problems affecting the ability of startups to establish, grow and scale in South Africa.
  • Source: ©Andriy Popov
    The need to curb money laundering
    The Anti-Money Laundering (AML) market makes up a significant proportion of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but the real issue is that money laundering is used to fund other illicit activities, such as smuggling, bribery, corruption, cybercrime, illegal arms dealing, human trafficking, modern slavery, and more. By Amit Singh
  • Henriëtte Loubser, Netwerk24's editor-in-chief
    Netwerk24 undergoing a metamorphosis
    Netwerk24, the acting digital home of Media24's Afrikaans titles, is moving to a new platform in early October. It will also be launching a brand new app.
  • Net#work BBDO has a 'meltdown'
    Net#work BBDO has a 'meltdown'
    Everything has changed. That is a given. And so when Net#work BBDO moved into their new offices and started unpacking the 27 years of awards haul for the shelves, the leadership team had, well, a meltdown.
  • EXCLUSIVE: Craig Naicker talks Happy Friday
    EXCLUSIVE: Craig Naicker talks Happy Friday
    CWDi has been rebirthed as Happy Friday by reinventing the agency model - for staff and clients alike. By Evan-Lee Courie
Show more

Paediatricians advocate the reopening of schools

As schools welcomed only Grade 12 learners back this week, the Paediatrician Management Group (PMG) and the South African Paediatric Association (SAPA) together urge government to open schools to all learners and not to allow fear or politics to harm the children of South Africa.
Photo by August de Richelieu from
Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Speaking out against government’s decision to close public schools again, local paediatricians say that the decision is not based on scientific evidence, and the benefits to children of attending school outweigh the risks to both children and the broader community.

With no clear evidence that closing schools significantly reduces community transmission or overall deaths, local paediatric doctors call for all grades to be allowed to return to school as soon as possible.

A Covid-19 modelling study done in the UK which was based on the previous H1N1 epidemic and the SARS outbreak, predicted that school closures alone would possibly prevent only 2-4% of deaths. This is much lower than the effect of other social distancing interventions.

“Those school communities which are at risk, either due to high local transmission rates or poor infrastructure, should be identified and supported immediately to mitigate their risks so that they can reopen as soon as possible. Where schools are unable to reopen, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) must still ensure that all learners continue to have adequate academic material via radio, television, cell phone applications and all other means necessary. Educators must be held accountable for providing ongoing academic support and material at all times,” the paediatricians said.

Children’s risk to acquire SARS-Cov2 infection is lower than adults


Spokesperson Dr Fiona Kritzinger, a paediatric pulmonologist at the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town, said children aged 0-18 in South Africa account for only 5% of Covid-19 cases.

“Children and young people have a lower susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, with 56% lower odds of being an infected contact.”

South African data on Covid-19 case distribution by age shows that children aged 5 to 9 years old have an incidence of 15 cases per 100,000 population; 10- to 14-year-olds have an incidence of 22 per 100,000 population, and 38 per 100,000 in children 15 to 19 years old. In comparison, the incidence in the 20- to 60-year-old groups varies between 94 and 228 per 100,000 population.

A recent media statement released by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) confirmed that only 0.1% of all learners who had returned to school tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and no deaths of learners were reported to the WCED.

Dr Kritzinger said that although this percentage is affected by the current Western Cape testing strategy, “it is nonetheless reassuring that the reopening of schools has not resulted in any significant outbreaks at a population level”.

Children’s risk to transmit SARS-CoV2 in a household is lower than adults

“Family cluster and household studies showed that children are rarely the index case and that children seldom cause outbreaks. It has been confirmed that children were only responsible for household transmission in 9.7% of households.

“In the Italian cohort of Garazzino, 67% (113/168) of children had at least one parent who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection and in 78% of cases the symptoms in relatives preceded the symptoms in the child, confirming that children are rarely the index case in a household,” she said.

Children’s risk of contributing to school and community outbreaks is very low

Dr Kritzinger said evidence points towards very limited spread of Covid-19 between children. “There are no reported large outbreaks in schools in any country. This supports the argument that asymptomatic children attending schools are unlikely to be significant spreaders of the disease.”

The reopening of schools had, in addition, not resulted in any significant outbreaks at a population level, said Dr Kritzinger. “In the Western Cape, more than half of the schools have not reported a single positive case despite very high community transmission in the province at the time of the reopening of schools. In the schools that have reported a case, 72% reported only 1 or 2 cases. As of 16 July 2020, there were only 333 (0.8%) active Covid-19 cases amongst WCED staff, indicating that teachers are not at greater risk than other essential workers. There have been no reported outbreaks in Western Cape schools and weekly new staff cases have been decreasing since the reopening of schools, despite ongoing high community transmission rates.”

Children’s risk for serious disease or death from COVID-19 is extremely low


Dr Kritzinger says studies from China, Italy, UK and USA all report very low numbers of critically ill children and deaths in children under 19 years of age, with children experiencing a much milder disease than adults and deaths extremely rare.

“By 9 June 2020, only 2.6% of all Covid-19-related admissions in South Africa were for children 0-18 years and only 0.4% of all Covid-19 reported deaths were in children 0-18 years.

“SARS-CoV-2 has caused less childhood deaths compared to influenza since the onset of the pandemic. Research from seven high income countries on 42,846 confirmed paediatric Covid-19 cases showed 44 Covid-19 deaths versus 107 influenza paediatric deaths during the current pandemic.”

She said that South African children remained at greater risk of death due to injury or pneumonia in 2020, with paediatric mortality from unintentional injuries, pneumonia and Covid-19 infection at 0.77, 0.22 and 0.03 respectively, per 100,000 childhood population.

“Reviewing StatsSA data from 2016, Prof Servaas van der Berg and Dr Nic Spaull estimated the regular mortality risk for ages 0-19 in South Africa as a 1-in-1000 chance, while the projected Covid-19 mortality risk in the same age group is 1-in-76,000 (0.001%).

“Even though there is scant data on the role of co-morbidities in children, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has already made provision to allow high risk learners to stay at home. In addition, all school staff members with co-morbidities have also been allowed to stay at home without any loss of income. Therefore, those who have been and would be attending school are per definition, not high risk.”

The major harms of school closure


The paediatricians argue that with basic education being a basic human right in the country’s constitution, the majority of learners would have missed half of the school year by the end of August, depriving them of this right.

“Only about 20% of school children have access to online schooling according to the DBE and it is estimated that only 10% of households have internet access. This lack of access to education is disproportionally affecting vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

“The knowledge and skills gap between those with access and those without will only continue to increase and this loss of education will have long-term and far-reaching economic effects. The DBE has not implemented any meaningful strategies since March to mitigate any of these effects and a significant percentage of learners have not received any educational material since March 2020.”

Dr Kritzinger said the emotional and psychological effects on children during and after lockdown is immense. Recent international reviews show that lockdowns, school closures and natural disasters raise levels of substance abuse, depression, domestic violence and child abuse. A recent study in Hubei in China reported that 25% of 8- to 12-year-old children had developed depression during lockdown.

“In South Africa, many learners are already under immense emotional and psychological stress due to poverty, malnutrition, crowded living conditions, child abuse, gender-based violence and other violent crime. The OPTIMUS study in 2016 reported that 42% of 15- to 17-year-old children reported some form of maltreatment.”

In addition, school closures increase childcare obligations, especially of healthcare and other essential workers. It has been estimated that if mortality rates for Covid-19 increased from 2.00% to 2.35% as a result of healthcare worker shortages, school closures would result in more deaths than the lives gained due to slower Covid-19 spread.

“By reopening the economy while keeping schools closed, many parents/caregivers are forced to leave their children at home unattended. Less than one-third of children live in households where both parents are present, and almost 42% live in households where the mother is the only parent present (Statistics South Africa, 2019). It is estimated that more than 2 million children aged 0-15 years will be left at home unattended, increasing their risks for accidental injury, abuse, fear, anxiety and isolation.”

Dr Kritzinger said that as paediatricians, they view the benefits of attending school as outweighing the risks, and that public schools should be allowed to reopen.

“It seems illogical to close all schools in all provinces and districts if community transmission rates vary so significantly. Allowing school communities to monitor and manage their risks based on local transmission would enable more schools to continue with their school activities and limit interruptions over the next 12 months.”
To celebrate Biz's 20th birthday month, get 20% off all rate card products:
Comment

Let's do Biz