Muscat: Oman’s Ministry of Health will carry out more inspections in private schools in Oman, to ensure they meet the hygiene and safety standards set up for schools in the country.
The joint committee formed for the purpose includes members from many government organisations, including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Higher Education, Public Authority for Consumer Protection, representative from Directorate General of Private School, the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources, National Youth Committee and United Nation Agencies.
Speaking to Times of Oman, Faiqa Al Sinawi, Director, Department of School and University Health, Directorate-General of Primary Health Care, Ministry of Health, Sultanate of Oman said, “There is a joint committee between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education that provides the necessary health requirements to every school in terms of Vaccination, observation of the quality of food in school canteens, awareness regarding hygiene, school environment and general health to maintain the health of male and female students.”
Represented by this department, the Ministry of Health also provides a nurse, either female or male, and is permanently employed at the school during the entire academic year, to schools of all grades to treat students and monitor their hygiene and environment, as well as school health, and tackle infectious diseases. Plans to supply food to school canteens, however, are not drawn up by the Ministry of Health, but the Ministry of Education.
“The Ministry of Education has allocated mini-committees in the various directorates that represent all of Oman’s governorates, assigning tenders to food companies, which have to be submitted by each of these organisations, in sealed envelopes. These committees meet to see what is appropriate for them and accordingly puts tenders with these food supply companies,” explained Al Sinawi.
For government schools, contracts are drafted by the Directorates of Education in each of the governorates, so schools cannot decide the food supplier with which they wish to partner.
In this context, Faiqa Al Sinawi added, “As for the Indian, Filipinos, Bangladeshi, Chinese, British, American and Pakistani schools, and other foreign schools or international schools, we want to ensure that all their nurses come from the ministry, because some of these schools don’t have nurses. Although our biggest focus is on public schools, we are working with the Ministry of Education to implement this programme in foreign schools.”
She went on to say, “There is a special joint committee to follow up on foreign and international schools, but it is not an effective committee as there is no effective monitoring by the Ministry of Health, which is different to the treatment of government schools. The Ministry of Health is facing difficulties when it comes to the conduct of foreign schools across various fields. For example, we suffer from a lack of people trained to supervise them, and some of them have no nurses.”
“The Ministry of Health called those in charge of these schools to discuss their obligations to provide a nurse affiliated with the Ministry, or to employ one by themselves, so as to monitor food in canteens and ensure that it meets proper standards of hygiene, environment and school health. This is unlike the case of public schools, where there is joint cooperation between all authorities, and there is a supervisory committee and nurses.”
Dr Faiqa Al Sinawi explained that there were certain hygiene requirements laid down by the Ministry of Health that schools had to adhere to, irrespective of whether that school was a private or public school.
“When the nurse supervises drinks and food in school canteens, there are certain requirements that must be met in these products, because the health ministry has provided clearances for these items, and they must meet the standards we have set,” she revealed. “For example, you cannot stock meat and chicken sandwiches, as they might cause food poisoning if they’ve gotten spoiled.
“Similarly, falafel and cheese sandwiches are provided, should students wish to have breakfast at the school,” added Al Sinawi. “This, however, is a complementary meal that the student pays for and it is not compulsory that the school provides this for free to every student. When it comes to drinks, you are not allowed to sell soft drinks or energy drinks and other stimulants, as well as those beverages that don’t meet Ministry of Health requirements.”
“Nurses must also monitor the drinking water in the school facilities, ensure the toilets are clean, make sure there is enough ventilation and fresh air supply, and see that the schools provide a healthy environment for students. Because there are only a small number of international schools, the Ministry of Health does not conduct awareness-raising campaigns for all of them, in all governorates, although we do carry out these campaigns in a few,” she added.
School health services are considered one of the important elements of primary health care services which started in 1991.