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School hygiene questioned

Schoolchildren wash their hands
Schoolchildren wash their hands at a primary school in Phnom Penh this week. The government is piloting a sanitation program for 16 primary schools beginning next year. Vireak Mai

School hygiene questioned

Many of Cambodia’s students regularly miss class, fall ill and even die due to a lack of hygiene and sanitation options at their schools, a problem the government intends to fix with new guidelines and standards finalised earlier this week.

Intended to provide primary schools with simple steps to improve sanitation, the guidelines cover drinking water, toilet access, hand-washing facilities and waste disposal.

About half of Cambodia’s public schools currently lack any sort of hand-washing facility for students, staff or on-site food vendors. Almost 20 per cent of the public primary schools lack a toilet, and water access has been declining as various privately funded programs have ended, down to 51.8 per cent in 2013 from over 66 per cent in 2009, Education Ministry figures show.

“Based on our research, 38.2 per cent of children at primary school have untreated worms, and a very high number still suffer diarrheal diseases if we compare to other countries,” said Dr Yung Kunthearith, director of the Education Ministry’s School Health Department.

The minimum guidelines program, developed by the ministry in partnership with UNICEF and German development organisation GIZ, works on a three-star system that allots more stars for improved sanitation in various categories.

For drinking water, one-star schools ensure that each student brings 500 millilitres to school with them, while three-star schools source and treat drinking water that is accessible to all. Most schools currently have no stars.

As part of a pilot in 16 primary schools next year, the ministry hopes to assess how long improvements will take.

“We will test it in a mix of rural and urban schools with a variety of facilities so that we can compare the results,” Kunthearith said.

At a primary school in Ratanakkiri, teacher Mony Vutha said his school has soap, but lacks water for drinking and hand washing, and in lieu of toilets, students use the forest.

“We face problem with the health of the students and staff . . . some cannot come to school because they are sick,” Vutha said.

“If we had enough water and latrines to use, I think we would not have problems with the attendance anymore.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR

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