The spectre of drought looms large over much of the country and many agencies are seized with the task of coming up with measures to mitigate the effects of the drought.
A shortage of food could have many social repercussions ranging from malnutrition, decline in school attendance to even increase in cases of gender-based violence. Faced with a situation whereby their children could miss lessons due to hunger, many parents, especially in rural areas have devised ways to keep the children in school, one of which is the introduction of supplementary feeding at schools.
This is a common practice at rural, and even some urban schools. While parents have good intentions that should be applauded, their expertise in food handling is quite limited hence the need for health authorities to closely monitor and supervise such schemes. In our last edition we carried an article in which Ndimimbili Secondary School community members in Lupane were ordered by education authorities to stop brewing mahewu, a traditional beverage, following a case of suspected poisoning.
We believe this could have been an isolated incident since such schemes are in existence at many other schools.
However, incidents such as these, where human lives are put in danger, should be avoided at all costs. It is against this background that we hope investigations into the suspected poisoning incident, not only come up with the cause but also come up with recommendations on how such incidents can be prevented in future.
Our view is that the Ministry of Health should be involved at the local level and take a leading role. There is no way we can do away with the feeding or supplementary feeding schemes especially as we are faced with a serious drought that will see many pupils walking long distances to school on empty stomachs.
For such pupils to be able to pay attention in class and get enough energy for the journey back home, intervention in the form of feeding is quite crucial. This also helps keep the pupils in school to acquire an education that is quite crucial for their future.
While we applaud education authorities for suspending the preparation of mahewu at the Lupane school pending investigations, we believe policy guidelines on food handling at non-boarding schools could go a long way in the handling of such unfortunate incidents, and preventing them in future.