The suspected dengue death of a class IX student calls for a deeper inspection of hygiene in city schools. We take a random look at the prevailing sanitary conditions in some schools

Following the recent death of a girl student of a private school due to suspected dengue, the institution remained closed for a fortnight leading to the speculation that it was quarantined by the civic authorities. Though the Vikaasa School management points out that the closure period coincided with the term break, it is a warning to all city schools to keep their campuses clean.

Take the case of Ananth Memorial Matriculation School at Arappalayam where the drainage channel runs along the main compound wall of the school. The stench is overbearing from the main entrance itself. Or the S.D.H Jain Vidyalaya in Sellur which is located right next to a wide drainage canal. It is a satellite campus for Kindergarten and right from the main gate to the classrooms where the tiny tots sit, it stinks. The toilets too are in a sorry state with stained commodes and reeking urinals. “We try our best to maintain a clean campus. The toilets are cleaned twice a day. We also have a separate store to dump construction materials,” claims Nilesh Gogoi, Correspondent, S.D.H. Jain Vidyalaya.

Similarly, The American College Higher Secondary School in Tallakulam presents poor sanitary conditions. Leaking taps, dingy classrooms, dusty floors and windows blocked with debris are common sights. The stinking toilet doesn’t seem to have seen water and broom in recent times. It can make you throw up.

Ilango Corporation Higher Secondary School in Shenoy Nagar is no different. A half-filled water tank is left open and a swarm of mosquitoes and flies hover around. However, the headmaster M. Rajendran, maintains there is no water stagnation in the campus. “We have conducted several awareness campaigns on cleanliness in the locality and have also educated our children to keep the campus clean. We have dedicated sanitary staff to clean toilets and water tanks,” he says.

The Deputy Director of Health Services, Madurai, S.Senthil Kumar says all schools have been directed to form committees comprising teachers, headmaster and students to monitor their campuses and review the hygiene standards every Thursday. “Our health officials will assist these committees in carrying out the task,” he adds.

Apart from maintaining cleanliness inside the school campus, the unhealthy surroundings in which the school is located is also of equal concern. In case of the Vikaasa incident, construction activity near the school is now cited as the main cause. Water apparently stagnated in the underground cellars at the site and turned into a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The District Collector Dr.L.Subramanian feels the school managements as stakeholders share a responsibility to sensitize the public and they have been directed to organize mass cleaning drives in their locality with the help of NSS and NCC volunteers. “This will go a long way in creating a clean environment,” he says. The district administration has launched an intensive awareness drive in all the 13 panchayat blocks and asked the people to report any incident of fever for immediate action.

People are largely unaware of indoor breeding points of the dengue causing mosquito. For example, the water-collecting tray in the refrigerator is an active breeding ground. “Dengue is a price we are paying for rapid unplanned urbanization. It’s difficult to control the outbreak in urban pockets because of the population density,” says Senthilkumar.

“Schools alone cannot be blamed for dengue incidents or else every leaking tap and dustbin is a potential health threat. It’s the responsibility of every individual to take stock of the matter and act accordingly,” asserts Biju Sudarshan, the Deputy Director of Vikaasa School. “We have formed a health club to assess sanitation in the campus.”

The student’s death has triggered a blame-game between the schools and the civic authorities. It may be easy for the schools to point fingers at the surroundings. But we can not continue to play with the health of our children. A healthy campus is an equal and shared responsibility of all. Norms need to be mandatorily laid down for hygiene in schools where a child easily spends a vital part of the day. Usually sanitary facilities are provided without any clearly defined rules whereas it will be beneficial to have standards for construction, cleanliness and maintenance of sanitation infrastructure.