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By JOHN CARLO M. CAHINHINAN

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has urged the government to fast-track the installation of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities in public schools amid the continuing threat of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, said although the Department of Education (DepEd) has postponed face-to-face classes until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, there should be an adequate number WASH facilities needed once physical classes resume.

According to Gatchalian, adequate WASH facilities are “long-term investments that would help schools observe proper hygiene and sanitation.”

He stressed that even the COVID-19 pandemic is contained and physical classes resume, WASH facilities are important to keep learners, teachers, and school personnel safe from the threat of other preventable diseases.

The senator added that soap, sanitizers, and alcohol should always be available in schools when physical classes resume.

Based on the 2019 figures of DepEd, only half of 35,005 schools that participated in its “WASH in Schools” program have access to group hand washing facilities with soap and water available.

DepEd also revealed that only 37.4 percent of schools practice daily supervised hand washing.

The program aims to provide a comprehensive, sustainable, and scalable school-based water, hygiene, sanitation, health education and deworming program to achieve learning and health outcomes.

“Hindi na kailangan ng pandemya para ipaalala sa mga eskwelahan ang importanteng mga bagay na ito. Pero dahil sa krisis na dulot ng COVID-19, kailangang magdobleng ingat tayo at laging maging handa para mapanatili ang kaligtasan at kalusugan ng mga mag-aaral, guro at kawani ng paaralan,” said Gatchalian.

Gatchalian’s Senate Bill No. 1565 or the Education in the New Normal Act also proposed that local school boards be allowed to utilize the “Special Education Fund” of local government units (LGUs) for the provision of hand washing facilities, soap, alcohol, sanitizers and other public health supplies such as thermometers, face masks, and face shields.

SB 1565 also mandates the implementation of information campaigns in schools to highlight the importance of regular hand washing and sanitizing, as well as other protocols on disease prevention and control.

“Kasama sa pagbangon ng ating sistema ng edukasyon mula sa naging epekto ng COVID-19 ang pagkakaroon ng sapat at malinis na tubig sa bawat paaralan, pati na ng mga pasilidad at programang pang-kalusugan at pang-kalinisan,” he said.

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