The poor may be the most infected by Tungiasis
Tungiasis is a disease caused by jiggers that excavate into the skin of their host.
This may lead to jiggers infestation if not handle fast. Should the female die in the skin of its host, a secondary infection will result. This infection, if left untreated, could lead to tetanus, gangrene, and even loss of the affected toe.
Poverty and poor hygiene are the major causes of jiggers.
Debra Misoi, a nurse in Langas district hospital says jiggers attack the feet, hands, knees, buttocks, and private parts.
She adds that female jigger burrows into the skin by putting its mouth and claws into the skin leading to infestation.
From locally-made to low-cost herbal remedies, non-governmental organizations researchers and communities are developing new ways to deal with jiggers in Kenya.
In Kenya, the poorest of the poor carry the highest burden of disease. However, its association with witchcraft, being cursed or, among the elderly, impending death, stigmatization, and ridicule of victims present challenges for its elimination.
I visited Cherunya area, Kisumu ndogo estate Kapseret constituency, Uasin Gishu County to establish the real situation of the people’s livelihoods and the issues bedeviling them.
My findings were of grave concern. Poverty and jigger infestation have really eaten into the lives of the residents and they are suffering in silence with nobody to rescue them.
I visited affected households and shared with the victims. Each of them has a story to tell of how they live with the problems.
The severe infestation was reported in children who could not extract the fleas. Their toes were swollen. The fleas also attacked the fingers and other parts of the body, the itch and inflammation unbearable.
Beatrice is a mother of six children aged between 2-17 years. Her children are among those affected with jiggers.
“The children would cry a lot. The itch would not let them sleep at night… My youngest son Bravin was the most affected because the jiggers not only affected his toes but also his back and buttocks”, says Beatrice.
“Poverty has denied them basic needs including proper clothing, they walk barefoot as parents barely eke a living from the small pieces of land their houses stand on” adds Beatrice.
Joel Kakumi is also a resident and explains how she has also been affected.
“I stay in a mud house where I use cow dung on the floor. Jiggers manifest in such areas without ones’ knowledge… I have tried to seek medication for more than a year, to no avail, the jiggers keep multiplying on daily basis”, says Joel
Tujengane Pamoja, a community-based organization that comprises of youths in Uasin Gishu County, has come up with an initiative of treating the residents using an herbal remedy consisting of neem and coconut oil. They also spray house floors with some “neem solutions” which they soak in freshwater for four days before using it in individual households affected by jigger infestation.
“We were given the tanks and we would dip the neem tree leaves and spray the water in the houses. You also spray the beds and there are no more fleas here. It kills the jiggers,” says Kimaru, a resident and a father of three in Cherunya area.
According to Tujengane pamoja Chairlady Melisa Mutheu, the neem and coconut oil have had a high success rate in the more than 90 schools and households they had visited before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
They also make neem and coconut soap.
“At first we used the potassium permanganate. We found that most of the jiggers were not killed… Because of the color that remains on the children’s feet after you have soaked them, they were teased, “says Melisa.
Researchers in Kenya made a trial of the new herbal remedy made of neem tree oil and coconut oil that could be an alternative way of treating tungiasis.
According to Lynne Elson, a researcher at Kemri Wellcome Trust, a study was done to determine whether neem and coconut oil reduce inflammation, pain, and itching better than the standard treatment in seven days.
Debra Misoi, a nurse in Langas district hospital says “We need to identify areas infested with jiggers, and come up with intervention methods like training, empowering the communities and finally rehabilitating the victims back to normal lives… The focus should be to stop the spread of jiggers by also donating shoes and investing in long term hygiene in the community”