AS Tanzanians continue to receive coronavirus vaccine in a national inoculation exercise launched at the end of July and health measures to slow the spread of the global pandemic such as wearing of face masks in public areas gaining traction, there are questions on whether or not children should put on the masks.
The Buchosa District Medical Officer (DMO), Ms Maria Kapinga told the Daily News last week they discourage children to put on the masks because of the safety risks and their inability to appropriately use them.
“We discourage face mask use to under eight (years) children not because the products are harmful, rather, due to mishandling by the minors,” she says.
“When are mishandled, the face mask may cause serious damages instead of prevention,” Mishandling to children normally include regular mask exchange among them, dumping and collecting back as well as ‘put-on, put-off’ and alike childish plays, a situation most likely to cause serious risks.
The DMO further says naturally, children’ immunes are stable and strong enough to fight some infections, including covid-19 transmissions.
“Even the way minors keep on jumping in their daily plays they grow stronger than adults,” she says. She says face masks are always safe for adults except those suffering from serious diseases like sickle cell or asthma.
However, she insists that despite their high immunity, other covid-19 precautions measures must be encouraged to minors, mostly regular being hand washing and social distancing.
Giving general explanations on face mask wearing especially to people who are still reluctant claiming to experience difficulties breathing, the DMO said that it is a matter of habit.
She cited an example of health service providers who usually spend hours in labour rooms with masks on all the time of surgeries, but no harm, no dizziness and no difficulty breathing.
She advised people to make regular mask wearing trials and will eventually get used of it.
“But, it is true that face masks causes difficulties breathing to people with serious diseases, because their bodies are already experiencing limited oxygen. Let these kinds of people go for other covid-19 precautions,” she says.
Reached for comments on how the schools get able to protect the minors from corona infections, the Mwanza Regional Education Officer, Mr Martin Nkwabi says schools have been strictly implementing hand-wash and social distancing directives, not only to protect the minors but everybody in the institutions.
He said that hand-wash rule in schools directs a person to start washing the water tap, with a notion that probably somebody with infections have used same tap and left the viruses on it.
For minors, he said, there are special teachers to deal with them and make Covid-19 precaution a first lesson when they get into the class.
Young children are insisted to avoid not only shaking hands but also touching each other in any way, says Mr Nkwabi .
He explains further that the schools have been also considering the set up of water facilities and soaps at any door available in the institutions’ premises, be it in kitchen, hostels, toilets, offices, store rooms and laboratories, among other areas.
There are also some staff responsible to educate the children how to use water facilities and make it a habit not only in this time of coronavirus outbreak but throughout their lives, he says.
He says further that the schools have been setting at-least 30 minutes for physical exercise to children, every day, as additional covid- 19 precaution measures.
According to him, jogging sessions are also a must for pupils in rural areas since they have lots of open spaces. “And all these precautions measures are helpful since we have never recorded any corona case be it in kindergarten, primary, ordinary or advanced schools as well as teachers’ colleges that we supervise,” he says.
The Daily News conducted a spot-check in some schools and universities in Mwanza, including St. Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT), to observe how much covid-19 precautions were considered. Hand-wash infrastructures were found at main entrances and some areas of the institutions’ premises.
At SAUT, students in classes were in masks, with chairs being set in line with social distancing directives. The Varsity’s Deputy Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, Prof George Masanja said SAUT kept on the installation of more lecture rooms, in a bid to maintain and implement a social distancing order.
“As you have seen, we expand water infrastructures at the main entrance to let people not only wash their hands but also keep distances when doing so. We therefore play two roles at once,” said the Deputy Vice Chancellor.
However, a third year student pursuing Administration- related courses, Erasto Kwitema, said that face mask wearing has been mostly considered during class sessions.
He said putting on the masks was somehow difficult when students are in other activities, including group discussions. “And social distancing is also somehow difficult during group discussions because we won’t be hearing each other, unless we shout “ he said.
At some primary and secondary schools, head teachers declined to comment until they had permission from their bosses. But some parents had views concerning mask wearing to youngest children, saying experts’ directives should be well considered so as to avoid possible damage.
They admitted that supervising the children was not an easy task, hence, face mask should be skipped but encourage them to stick on other Covid-19 prevention measures.
A parent, Mr Severin Muteya whose child is schooling at Gedeli Primary School in Nyakato Ward, praised efforts by relevant authorities in the education sector to fight the pandemic.
He said could be better once the minors stay separate from older children all the time. The step will easy the guardians’ supervision and somehow guarantee the minors’ safety all the time, advised the parent.
WHO and UNICEF say children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks because of their safety and overall interest as well as their capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance.
The two international organisations say that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread