OSHIKUNDE – About 90 percent of learners at a school in the newly demarcated Oshikunde constituency of Ohangwena Region are battling with an infection that is causing a serious-looking itchy rash to their bodies. The school authorities initially suspected an outbreak of chickenpox, however a team of health officials that visited the school last week Friday ruled out chickenpox infection.
“We thought it was chickenpox but officials from the Ministry of Health and Social Services that came to the school today said it was a different infection but not chickenpox,” said Rachel Shiyanga, a teacher at the affected Etakaya Primary School.
According to the principal of Etakaya Primary School, Junias Nghishoongele, at least 90 percent of the 105 learners at the school was infected. The kindergarten teacher, as well as most if not all of her 25 learners, are also experiencing the problem of an itchy blister-like rash.
Shiyanga said all affected learners were given medication as treatment while those not showing symptoms were given a preventive measure.
Etakaya Primary School and its environment has a serious general hygiene problem as the area does not have water fit for human consumption, Shiyanga revealed. The school is situated in a poverty-stricken area also plagued by mosquitoes.
“We have a government borehole near the school but its water is very salty and it gives children diarrhoea if they drink it, or if they eat food prepared with it. The water that the community drinks is from the water ponds and it is very muddy,” explained Shiyanga.
On Monday last week two learners allegedly went to school with blister-like rashes that teachers suspected to be chickenpox. The next day, Tuesday, the number of children affected increased to eight and on Wednesday the majority of learners appeared to be infected. Some of them had severe symptoms. This prompted teachers to use their personal vehicles to take some of the infected learners to the nearest clinic on Thursday.
“We could not send them home because we knew that most of them would never get help if we didn’t get help for them. We called the Regional Health Directorate in Eenhana but they told us that they do not have transport,” said the health education teacher at the school, Sarafina Shatona.
Shatona said the children displayed chickenpox symptoms, an infection that causes a blister-like rash, which first appears on the face and trunk, and then spreads over the rest of the body. Being an airborne disease, chickenpox spreads easily and rapidly through sneezing and coughing, as well as direct contact with the secretions from the blisters.
The teachers concluded the learners were suffering from chickenpox based on the symptoms and the pace at which the infection spread. “But when officials from the health directorate came to the school, they said it was a different infection which is not chickenpox and neither an allergy. Today the pimples of the affected learners have grown in size and number. The health officials have however told us that we should alert them once more should the situation get worse ,” said Shiyanga.
On Friday afternoon, Ohangwena Regional Acting Health Director John Hango confirmed the situation at Etakaya Primary School but said he was yet to receive the official briefing from the team that visited the school.
By Helvy Shaanika