Jiggers kill poor Ugandans
By Hassan Isilow
BUGIRI: Fatima Kaawa, 62, cannot stand up straight, due to pains caused by Jigger parasites which have infected her toe nails, knees, and elbows. Jiggers are tiny parasitic sand flies which thrive in poor hygiene and breed in the human body. The tiny blood sucking parasites have caused a lot of pain in Fatima’s life. The elderly woman tells Africawitness that she has been neglected by her neighbors and relatives because of her illness. “No one wants to look at me in the neighborhood. They treat me with disrespect.” She says with tears in her eyes. Fatima always sits alone next to the fire place because she feels cold due to heavy infestation of Jiggers in her body. Her toe nails have become dark, filled with Jiggers and puss. The toe nails could soon pill off. The stench from her feet is unbearable. “I feel weak all the time, with a lot of pain in my joints, that’s why I always sit by the fire” the uncared for elder tells Africa witness while cooking her porridge for lunch. Fatima used to make a living by cultivating food crops on her small piece of land, but due to jigger infestations, she has now been reduced to a beggar, who depends on handouts from well wishers. “My two children died a few years back. Today I have none to care for me. My relatives have also abandoned me” a teary looking Fatima reveals in her weak voice. She is not the only person suffering from Jigger infestation; there are thousands of other Ugandans infected by Jiggers that mostly enter the human body under toenails, finger nails and the knees. Uganda’s ministry of health has confirmed ten districts in Busoga sub-region have been infected by Jigger parasites. “All patients will be given free medical treatment and basic necessities such as soap and basins for hygiene in their homes,” Uganda’s State Minister in charge of Primary Health care, James Kakooza, told a press conference in Kampala. School going children are the most affected, because very few Ugandan children have shoes, their feet is always in contact with dusty roads and filthy play grounds. “Many children in our school have developed deformities; they walk with difficulty because their feet have been destroyed by Jiggers” a primary school teacher in Nabijjingo sub-county Bugiri district told Africa witness, on condition of anonymity, because he is not authorized to speak to the media. Government has not released the official number of people infected with Jiggers, but local residents estimate victims could be in their thousands. In early October two people died of jigger infestation in Bugiri district Eastern Uganda. The first victim was a three months old baby Nyaburu Miriam, a daughter to Augustine Okoth. “The child died as a result of jigger infestation” latiff Ongera a medical assistant at Nabijjingo Islamic health center confirmed to this publication in a telephone interview. He said the Islamic health center has helped a number of jigger victims in the sub county. “Many people have died as a result of jigger infestation because they do not come to us to seek immediate medical attention,” latif said. While, Bashiru Mudolla a trader in Nakoma trading center, says it will be difficult for Government to completely eradicate the Jigger crisis in Busoga sub-region because most people believe in superstition. “Whenever our people are infected with jiggers they consult traditional healers thinking they have been bewitched. So this prolongs the problem at times leading to death” Bashiru Mudolla told Africa witness in an interview. In spite of the fact that, Jiggers are primarily caused due to poor hygiene, some members of Uganda’s civil society are blaming government for neglecting its citizens. Those in favor of this argument, claim Government officials have been turning a deaf eye whenever citizens raised the issue of jiggers, until now that it has exploded. With barely three months left to the country’s general elections, many politicians are expected to use this crisis in gaining political capital.