Survey raises red flag about teachers’ health if exposed to Covid-19

Teachers with underlying health conditions may be at greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract Covid-19. Stock image.                                                                                                                                   Image: paylessimages / 123RF

The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) is concerned about how many teachers with underlying health conditions are at increased risk from the coronavirus.

Its concern is based on a “health status” survey conducted last month to which 130,655 teachers, out of a total staff complement of 442,268 and belonging to various teachers’ unions, responded .

At least 10% of the teacher population in all of the provinces responded to the survey. Six provinces had a response rate of more than 20%. North West had the highest response rate with 53% of teachers in the province participating.

Half the total respondents reported having at least one underlying health issue that could pose a risk if they contracted Covid-19. They included hypertension, asthma and diabetes.

Naptosa’s executive director, Basil Manuel, said the survey was aimed at establishing the health status of teachers.

“What we’ve discovered is that there is a large number of teachers that have underlying health conditions.

“At least 50% of teachers have some illness or the other whether it’s hypertension, diabetes, HIV, TB, lung disease, cancer and so on. But of those, at least 25% have more than one condition, which puts them in a high risk category.

“But what mitigates against that is the seriousness of the underlying sickness, so given that only about 5%-7% of teachers have serious hypertension, even though 25% may have hypertension, only 5% may have serious hypertension.”

Manuel said “of course we are concerned because a lot of these are lifestyle diseases”.

The survey also found that about 2,160 of female teachers reported being pregnant, accounting for around 3% of respondents.

Just over 13% of the respondents were smokers, the highest proportion of them in the Northern and Western Cape.

Manuel said the statistics helped to shed light on what needs to be done to help teachers.

“It changes our thinking about what we need to be intervening with when it comes to health matters. For the department of education it also means that we’ve got to step up our health education with our teachers. It’s a very useful HR tool that we have at our disposal. Are we worried? Yes we are worried that certainly teachers have illnesses, but it’s not the end of the world because we can do something about it,” he said.

Manuel said a number of teachers had applied for a concession to stay at home. Though he did not provide a number, he confirmed that every school had at least one or two teachers affected.

He said substitute teachers had been appointed but the need for them at this stage was not high as only grade 7 and 12 pupils had returned to classes.

“They are being identified for when the next big cohort of children go back to school on June 6 when we will see five additional grades returning in primary schools, for example. So now we will need substitutes, different provinces are dealing with it differently,” he said.

BY NONKULULEKO NJILO

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