Scabies at Makkah schools

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Makkah newspaper

ROTANA channel recently hosted me, along with a number of prominent personalities, on its “Ya Hala” talk show to discuss the issue of “The spread of scabies in Makkah schools.” During the program I was surprised to hear the statement by the Education Ministry spokesman Mubarak Al-Osaimi denying the fact that Makkah school classrooms are overcrowded.

He made that statement to downplay the issue. Of course, he was talking from his office in Riyadh and did not know the reality in Makkah. Al-Osaimi should have visited one of the schools in the holy city to have a first-hand knowledge of the situation. I also wish the Education Minister, who recently visited a model school in Makkah (after it was disinfected prior to his visit), had inspected the condition of schools in Misfalah and Mansour and Nakasa streets, which saw the outbreak of scabies. The minister would have then realized that the classrooms were really congested threatening the health of students.

The minister should also have noted the number of students in each school and the classroom space and whether it was compatible with global standard to ensure students’ right to education. Can we compare our schools with those in Finland? The ministry had sent a group of our teachers to Finland to learn from its education system. The minister has written in his book on “Educational Reform” that the Saudi children deserved better education. We all want our children to gain their educational rights in order to realize their hopes and aspirations, including health security.

The Burmese community has been living in Makkah since 1960s and the Saudi government granted its members resident permits and they have been living among us showing their loyalty to this country. The government corrected their legal status by giving them iqamas or resident permits and allowed them to work. The community established schools for their children with the support of charitable organizations. The government later decided to bring these schools under the direct supervision of the Education Ministry. The Education Department in Makkah decided to merge Burmese schools with public schools. This resulted in the congestion of classrooms. The situation became worse following the cancelation of some school building projects.

The merger of Burmese schools added more than 70,000 students to public schools in Makkah since 1435H, and this was the first reason for the spread of infectious diseases such as scabies. Doctors and experts have confirmed that such diseases could break out in unhygienic and unclean environments. The merger of Burmese schools has affected the cleanliness of our schools and resulted in accommodating more students in classrooms than their capacity. It was easy for viruses of contagious diseases to spread among students who use the same educational facilities and tools.

I still believe it was better to leave the Burmese students in their schools after taking measures to improve the condition of their schools. We should have trained their teachers who have been receiving SR600 to SR700 monthly as salary. These teachers were facing unemployment and poverty after the merger. The Education Department should have supervised these Burmese schools without merging them with public schools. The Burmese community was also facing the trouble of transportation as they lived far away from public schools.

Some of these Burmese students were studying in schools in the west and east of the city. The scabies outbreak took place in Sharayie and cases of the disease were found far away from Misfalah and Nakasa to reach south of Makkah. I think now the focus should be to exterminate the sources of scabies in the city. The municipality and the Municipal Council have found the Burmese selling meat of camels affected by the disease and this may be the reason for the outbreak.

We wake up from our sleep only after things exacerbate into disasters. Where was the municipality when slums developed in various parts of Makkah and the Burmese sold contaminated camel meat? Did the municipality carry out its duty in cleaning the areas of Burmese community and distributing bins to collect garbage and protect the hygienic condition of their environment? We cannot blame the Burmese community for the present problems. They have been going through difficult conditions caused by poverty, unemployment and diseases, which forced them to engage in trade to earn a living.

Where are our businessmen and private banks and companies to lend their support to these poor people? I propose the establishment of a fund to support the Burmese and other poor communities in Makkah in order to provide them with decent housing, health care and education. These communities are the neighbors of the Grand Mosque and their safety means the safety of all Makkans as well as pilgrims who come for Haj and Umrah. We must cleanse the hotbeds of the disease by keeping residential and educational environments neat and clean. Otherwise, the disease will spread to other places.

Why I said the merger of Burmese children with public schools was not a good idea? It was because the decision did not take into account the health, social and environmental aspects. Was it not the state budget for education in 2017 amounted to SR200 billion and where did they spend that huge money? If they had given SR1 billion to each region to build schools and improve the educational environments we could have solved many problems related to education.

Let us leave the electronic textbook and other projects to another year and focus first on matters relating to protection of our children’s health and improving the condition of their schools before they hate schools and refuse to go to them fearing scabies and other diseases.


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