By James Odong
Jiggers continue to be reported as a major public health problem in Uganda, particularly in Rubanda District. They have become a community horror increasing poverty and social exclusion of the affected people and sometimes leading to death.
Jigger infestation is one of the neglected public health problems in Rubanda District affecting the Batwa communities of Bufundi Sub County.
“Jiggers are a leading cause of disability, morbidity and sometimes mortality, particularly in the elderly, women and school age children among the Batwa community here. There is hence an urgent need to step up efforts by all stakeholders and fight this scourge”, said Rubanda District Medical Officer (DHO), Dr Abdon Birungi.
National Medical Stores (NMS) Entebbe, a government parastatal responsible for procuring, storing and distributing medicine and medical supplies working with Rubanda District Local Government have stepped up its efforts towards the eradication of jiggers in the area.
The NMS team conducted community parades and inspections last week to identify people who have been affected by jiggers and applying benzyl benzoate emulsion (BBE) and petroleum jelly, the most effective treatment for jiggers which has been identified by NMS.
Jiggers often enter people’s bodies through the feet and once inside a person’s body, they suck blood, breed, grow and impact negatively on one’s health. When administered to a person with jiggers, a combination of BBE and petroleum jelly can eradicate it in three to five days, said Dan Kimosho, the Principal Public Relations Officer, National Medical Stores.
Members of the Batwa community were also taught the importance of embracing good hygiene practices as a way of preventing jiggers which often affect their wellbeing. One of the victims, Edward Katama, spoke about the acute pain he went through when he suffered from jiggers. “Walking was unbearable. I didnt know what to do, I had to be pierced to remove the jiggers”, he states with tears dropping from his eyes.
Edward’s story shows the need for continued public education on jiggers as most people do not know how to effectively deal with the problem. Most people in the community still think that jiggers are a cultural curse. According to the Sub county Chief Bufundi,Ali Kirarira there is need for collective responsibility by all major players in educating the Batwa communities. “There is need to educate our people to put aside the traditional beliefs and superstitions and work towards health. This campaign will definitely go a long way in achieving that objective,” he said.
Uganda is one of the countries where jigger infestation is endemic and it is said to have killed at least 20 people in 2010 and made over 20,000 sick. 9 out of 12 of the most affected districts are found in Busoga sub-region, with Namutumba District having one of the highest prevalence of the disease.
The team from NMS and the District Medical staff camped in the parish of Bufundi where jiggers are and stayed for the 3 days treating the affecting people.
“NMS will always endeavour to lend a hand wherever possible to alleviate the suffering of the people. We believe in responding to the needs of our fellow countrymen and we feel it is only right to assist those affected by natural or even man-made catastrophe,” said the Principal Public Relations Officer, NMS, Mr. Dan Kimosho while overseeing the application of a combination of BBE and petroleum jelly to the people affected by jiggers in Rubanda District.
MOH Jiggers Eradication Program
The Ministry of Health has recognized the increasing burden of jiggers infestation in the Country especially in the Eastern and North Eastern regions. A focal desk was established in 2012 within the National Disease Control department to decisively plan and prepare to respond to this menace. This desk has since expanded to a multi sectoral task force involving top district leadership and technical officers and the Ministries of Health, local government and Education, sports and Gender.
The task force targets to apply Public Health prevention strategies with the support from the Public Health Act to eventually elimination jiggers in the Country.
The main objective of the task force is to control and eventually eliminate jiggers as a public health problem in Uganda by urging the population towards homestead improvements to deny jiggers of dust soil that is a key ingredient in the development of the jigger larva into a mature flea.
It specifically looks at inculcating a habit of regular smearing of house floors to deny the flea a dusty environment, educate and involve communities on homestead and other places of gathering improvement, coordinate relevant stakeholders and the opinion leaders in the most affected districts to enforce public health act and /or create new bye laws that strengthen the existing public health act laws.
The Ministry of Health takes lead in management of Jigger cases and public education on good health practices while local Government will make enforcement of Public Health act a priority.
So far the Parliamentarians and top district leadership of the affected 17 districts have been sensitized on jigger causes, prevention and control measures. Parliament approved some funds to kick start the jigger campaign.
NB: Information sourced from the Ministry of Health website: http://health.go.ug/programs/jiggers-eradication-program
What the WHO says about Jiggers
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the jiggers are not known to transmit disease to humans, but are a nuisance because the female jiggers penetrate soft areas of the skin.
The victims suffer from stigmatisation and decreased mobility. They also become vulnerable to other bacterial infections and tetanus.
The only recommended treatment by WHO is extraction using sharp implements such as a needle or thorn. After removal, the wound should be dressed with an antiseptic and protected until it heals. End