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Women waging war against jiggers in Turkana

05 September 2012, 16:46 Emmanuel Bowen

If you thought that jiggers were only in Murang’a, you are mistaken. Residents in Turkana are also struggling to keep the irritating parasites at bay. Against their wildest dream, Mary-Stella Akiru and Jacinta Wangechi have made it their mission to remove jiggers from those already infected, and prevent others from suffering a similar fate.

In 2008, the two friends were going about their business when their attention was drawn to an old woman on a wheelchair. “She may have been in her 60’s and this was not the first time we had seen her. She was a common sight in Isiolo town, begging for money,” Makesi remembers.

But on this day, they were shocked to discover that the source of her predicament was jiggers. “They had infested her entire body, you might find it difficult to imagine but her private parts were infested too, a fact that we discovered once we decided to assist her,” Wangechi explains. This woman chatted a new path for her and other women, and for five years, they have moved from one homestead to another and at times from one far-flung village to the next.

“When we decided to do a background check on jigger prevalence in this region, we were surprised to realise that even toddlers had not been spared,” Akiru explains. She explains a situation that greatly moved her: “We found a two-month old baby whose hands and feet had been infested, you can imagine the discomfort because jiggers cause an itch that one can’t ignore.” The longer the jigger remains in the body, the more the pain. For a two months old baby, it was a nightmare. They were even more shocked to discover that jiggers did not only affect the feet and hands, but also the private parts.

“Handling jiggers is much more complicated than people think, especially for people like us with no medical background,” says Akiru . Akiru says the situation has further been complicated by the increasing HIV prevalence in the region. “Those who grew up in villages may not be strangers to jiggers, and they may remember an aunt removing jiggers from one pair of feet to the next using the same needle, without even sterilising it,” Wangechi expounds.

They say that it was even common to find neighbours sharing a needle. “With HIV and Aids being a reality, we cannot afford to be so negligent or careless. In fact, we are trying to educate people from using needles to chemical solutions,” Akiru  says. Using a solution of water and magnesium permanganate, suffocates the jiggers, killing them. Then the women will do a follow up after two weeks. But removing jiggers is not all they do, they have teamed up with 20 other women for a similar course.

Under the name, “Turkana Women and Jiggers Volunteers,” they trek for about 12 kilometres teaching villagers on personal hygiene.But their jigger-ridding mission is challenged by the limited financial resources to buy the chemicals to suffocate these parasites.“Sometimes we visit homes where there is no food, so how do you remove jiggers and teach hungry people, how to be clean?” poses Wangechi. However, despite the challenges, these women, continue on their trail to stump out jiggers in Turkana.

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