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Experts urge gov’t to ensure continuity of student meal programme amid pandemic

AMMAN — The closure of schools has not only created educational problems but also has deprived many vulnerable children of their single meal of the day, according to health experts.

Health expert Wissam Qarqash considered it a “contradiction” for the Ministry of Education to “close schools for the children’s health and yet deprive 450,000 of them of the meal provided by the school-feeding programme”.

The programme, developed by the ministries of Education and Health in partnership with the World Food Programme provides students “a light meal including vitamins, proteins and minerals to strengthen their immune system, and protect them from viruses”, according to Qarqash.

The programme used to provide about 41 million meals for students in first to sixth grade, in 1,878 schools located in poverty pockets across the country.

Qarqash, a nutrition expert and ex-founder of the nutrition programme for school students in the Ministry of Health, called on the Ministry of Education to “continue nutritional assistance for school students, especially the children in the first few grades in poverty pockets”.

“This programme, founded 22 years ago, came out of necessity. It was based on scientific studies that confirmed a severe shortage of iron, vitamin A, and protein in children, especially those who are born in financially-challenged areas,” Qarqash added.

Child development expert Mohammad Asmar, who has experience working with refugee children and vulnerable Jordanian children concurred with Qarqash, adding that the delivery of meals to the children is “one of their simplest rights”.

“There should have been cooperation between the ministries of social development, health and education to distribute these meals to the students’ families even in the absence of schools,” he added.

Minister of Education Tayseer Nueimi said in a statement that the ministry is “fully aware of the importance of the school meal and its impact on students’ health”.

“The programme is indeed very important and we are working on a mechanism to distribute the meals to the students in the event that they do not return to schools in the second semester,” Nuemi added.

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