There was visible excitement among students when schools reopened Tuesday in Malawi’s two biggest cities, Lilongwe and Blantyre, after a two-week suspension caused by a cholera outbreak.
The bacterial illness has killed close to 800 people, more than 100 of them children, and affected more than 25,000.
Malawi’s government announced measures to prevent cholera from spreading in schools but warned it will shut down the schools again if needed.
To many students, especially those who are preparing to take national examinations this year, the closure doomed their hope of passing the exams.
Ronnie Lutepo, a teenaged student at Michiru View secondary school in Blantyre, said returning to the school was the best thing he hoped for.
“Yes, as I was at home my mum was telling me to study, but being in an examination class affected me badly,” he said. “We are all supposed to be here and ready for the exams and if we are not ready, we are not going to get good grades.”
The reopening comes after the government announced that it has put into place preventive measures against the spread of cholera, which is transmitted mainly through dirty water.
These include fixing broken boreholes and water taps in the schools and banning the sale of cooked food around school premises.
Malawi is battling its worst cholera outbreak in a decade. Government statistics show that as of Monday it had registered 25,458 cases since the start of the outbreak last March, with 550 cases reported on Monday alone.
The disease has so far killed more than 800 people with around 1,000 hospitalizations as of Tuesday.
Justin Rice Phiri, the deputy head teacher at Michiru View secondary school, told VOA that the school has put in place measures to prevent students from contracting the disease.
“At the same time our support staff; the cleaners and the cooks have been trained on how best to prevent the cholera and also giving them the protective wear; the gloves, the work suits and the like,” he said.
On Tuesday, the U.N.’s children’s agency, UNICEF, started distributing anti-cholera supplies in schools in areas most affected by the outbreak.
Government authorities, however, have warned that they may close the schools again should the outbreak spread among students at an unmanageable level.