For the past month, I have been reading wide on the Internet with curiosity the divergent views on precautionary measures to take for children in different countries, as they go back to school. One question that kept jumping at me was how children were going to do sports with masks on.
Face masks, regardless of the type, has the tendency to cut off sufficient oxygen to the brain, thus causing light-headedness. According to one school of thought, children should wear face masks at all times. Another believes school children involved in active sports, should be allowed to take off their masks, while on the field and put them on immediately after their sporting activities. Children with underlying ailments such as asthma, however, should not be penalised, but rather encouraged to practise social distancing.
Wearing face masks is mandatory, but when children wear it during Physical Education (PE) at school it reduces the flow of oxygen and restricts breathing.
The NYS Nevada which hitherto had issued a communique for children not to wear nose masks, has now come out with a different post advising all children to mask up henceforth.
This has forced many parents to advise their children not to take part in sporting activities, since it could pose a risk to their health.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children under two years are not supposed to wear face masks under any circumstance. A visit to a few crèches in the Greater Accra Region has revealed lots of children under two years wearing the masks in class and on their way home. A drive through town will have you come across lots of mothers carrying their babies at their back with most of them wearing face masks.
These babies could end up suffocating or choking, since they cannot reposition their mask should they feel uncomfortable while struggling to breathe. Furthermore, their airways are much smaller and that could be catastrophic. Owners of day care centres must be given the necessary guidelines to protect our babies. Instead of the face masks, mothers could cover the head of their babies with a lighter fabric when carrying them or let them stay at home if possible.
Numbers per classroom should probably be reduced. According to the WHO Q&A homepage, children should not be required to wear face masks when playing sports or doing physical activities, such as, running, jumping or playing on the playground just so it does not compromise their breathing. Their teachers or organisers must rather advise them to maintain social distancing or limit the numbers playing together. According to the WHO and UNICEF, children aged up to five years should not wear masks though some countries might recommend a different or lower cut-off for mask use.
From the wide readings I have done, I realised policies differ from one country to the other.
There have been so many double-edged opinions and as such, I would like to call on the government to collaborate with the appropriate bodies to come out with necessary guidelines in order to adequately protect our children. Although there have been doubts as to whether young children dying had anything to do with the masks, as an asthma advocate, I would like to advise that children are not punished for not wearing masks but rather be educated.
The writer is the Founder of Asthma & Allergies Foundation Ghana