Jiggers: A case of poverty, hygiene or both?

Oct 18, 2010

THE blame game continues over the jiggers problem in Busoga. For many people in other regions, it is ridiculous. To those affected, it is a painful reality.<br> Jiggers mostly affect people who live in houses with dusty and cracked floors and walls.

MANY people cannot comprehend how a person can resign his life to a small and seemingly powerless parasite like jiggers the way people in Busoga have done. But as Vicky Wandawa and Esther Namirimu write, there are many factors behind the epidemic

By Esther Namirimu
THE blame game continues over the jiggers problem in Busoga. For many people in other regions, it is ridiculous. To those affected, it is a painful reality.
Jiggers mostly affect people who live in houses with dusty and cracked floors and walls.

People who have no shoes, and those who share accommodation with animals which carry fleas, are most vulnerable, so poor people are more likely to have jiggers, says John Naigide, the LC III chairman of Gwase village, one of the affected areas in Busoga.

Jiggers affect the productivity of the people and school-going children. Some pupils are forced to drop out of school because they are often ridiculed.

There are low levels of awareness about the cause, mode of spread and prevention of jiggers among the people in the affected places.

Poverty is also fueling the problem because if one cannot earn sh500 a day, he cannot afford to pay more than sh7,000 just for transport to the nearest health facility. Yet they cannot walk the over 20km distance in pain.

Naigide says the major challenge they face in controlling this predicament are the myths surrounding it. Many people believe the causes range from witchcraft, to bad omen, among families.

Such people end up seeking treatment from traditional healers instead of conventional health care givers.
The health ministry has started a campaign to eradicate the parasites.

The campaign includes hygiene promotion, health education and sensitisation and treatment of those affected.

The ministry is working with the local leadership and a non-government organisation, Friends of Community Health (FCOH) to promote hygiene among the people.

But these services have not yet reached the most affected areas of Buyende, Butansi, Kitayundwa and Buganza.

It is mostly the elderly in Buyende who are suffering the jigger infestation.
Samuel Munagwa, a victim of jiggers, says he received treatment only once when he could still afford to walk to Kamuli Referral Hospital, but things have changed since his legs started swelling.

Munagwa who lives alone and has no relatives left, survives on hand-outs from well-wishers. According to his neighbours, the cause of his jigger infestation is poor sanitation and resignation since there is no one to give him a shoulder.

The major source of income for the people in Buyende district is the sell of ropes. Each rope costs sh100. It esteemed that one will have to make about 20 ropes to be able to buy medicine, yet there is no ready market for the ropes.

The energetic youth have moved to Kamuli town to look for jobs and do business. The boda boda riders are seen as the cream of society because they can earn over sh5,000 per day.

Effects of jiggers
Dr. Samuel Bandobeera of Mulago Hospital says jigger infestation can lead to severe swelling, ulceration and fibrosis. It can also cause lamphangitis, gangrene, sepsis, the loss of toenails, auto-amputation and even death.

According to Ahadi Kenya Trust, an anti-jigger organisation, another noted problem caused by jiggers is the risk of passing on blood transmitted infections such as HIV when people share unsterilised equipment to remove the bugs.

It was noted that many people share a single pin to extract jiggers, a situation that exposes individuals to HIV infection from those who already have the virus.
Jude Mugaya of Plan International, also a community facilitator of Naibowa village, says the most affected people are the children and the elderly.

Mugaya says the major cause of jigger infestation is poor hygiene and people’s ways of living.

He adds that it is common to find people sharing accommodation with animals.
“We are planning to purchase detergents like potassium permanganate solution and supply it at zone level so that everyone gets access to it.

We have started a community-led total sanitation as a follow-up measure to promote hygiene,” he says.

Last month over 45 pupils from different schools were treated by dipping their feet in potassium permanganate solution.
“It is unfortunate that Buyende is out of Plan’s programme area, so we cannot help them,” Mugaya says.

The jigger infestation in Busoga has forced several leaders hailing from the region, including Rebecca Kadaga, the deputy speaker of Parliament, and the Government chief whip, Daudi Migereko, to declare a war against the parasite.
Kadaga says she will partner with local non-governmental organisations to distribute drugs and sensitise the locals on how to eradicate jiggers.

Israel Kagwa, also a resident of Gwase in Buyende district, has never received any treatment. He says he is too weak to walk to the hospital.

Kagwa’s condition is very bad because in the process he contracted another disease, elephantiasis, and his feet are rotting away. “The pain is too much but what can I do about it? I need help,” he laments.

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