Thousands of children trooped back to their classrooms as Liberia opened its schools after a six-month hiatus brought about by the Ebola outbreak.
Students lined up outside their schools on Monday, Feb. 16, waiting for their turn as medical personnel took temperatures before letting them inside. Schools also had chlorinated water ready with which children washed their hands before continuing on.
While many children are eager to get back to the grind of schoolwork, a lot of their classmates still remained home, barred by parents from going to school for fear of exposing them to the Ebola virus. Some families, however, simply couldn't afford to send their children back to school after losing their jobs because of the outbreak. Liberia's economy, which relied on cocoa, coffee and diamonds, generally took a hit when Ebola broke out.
Cases of infection are still present in the country but what was once the hot seat of the outbreak, registering the most number of deaths, now only sees just a handful of cases each week. In the past, Liberia recorded as many as 100 new patients every week.
To help stem off new infections as schools opened, over 5,000 kits with chlorine for hand-washing and thermometers were distributed, according to Ramses Kumbuya, Deputy Education Minister. Health officials have warned that just a single new case may trigger a new cluster of infections that will then give rise to more.
Liberia has a problem with overcrowding in its schools, with sometimes up to 100 children grouped together in one classroom. With Ebola spreading through direct contact with bodily fluids, schools, most especially the overcrowded ones, pose a lot of risk.
Some schools opened but had no choice but to send students home before the afternoon because there were not enough teachers present. All schools in Liberia have been mandated to open by Mar. 2 or they will have to face fines.
In neighboring Guinea, most schools reopened in January, but the scene is similar to Liberia, with parents still fearful of Ebola keeping their children at home instead.
Sierra Leone, on the other hand, is scheduled to open its schools by the end of March. About 30 of its schools were used as treatment centers so they will have to be cleared first and decontaminated before being used again by students.
More than 9,000 people have died due to the Ebola virus in what can be considered the worst outbreak of the disease in history. Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were the worst hit in West Africa.