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Onesmus' Darier's disease that still gets him shunned three decades on

Health By Mercy Kahenda
His sister Florence Martha Kyalo, nurses him at home

Onesmas Mwanzi is a lonely man. Mwanzi, 43, walks with difficulty, has an itching skin and unpleasant smell attributed to Darier’s disease, a skin condition he developed when he was only nine.

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He has an extensive skin thickening on the face, scalp and scattered lesions on the body, groin, lips and other body parts.

Born and brought up in Jagwidha Village, Kitui Central, Mwanzi says the condition has seen him shunned by people. He says his siblings have also neglected him. Only his elder sister, Florence Martha Kyalo, has been of help. He lives with her in Greensteads Estate. The other members of his family see him as a curse.

“This is my life. I revolve around this house and compound limiting my movements to avoid being a bother to the society, including my own siblings, who see me as a curse,” says Mwanzi.

He says he developed rushes on his face and in a few months, they spread to other parts of his body and formed pimple-like marks.

He went to hospital and was put on drugs but he did not heal. By then, he was a Standard Three pupil.

His academic performance began dropping because he was not able to attend school continuous, and was also being shunned by his peers.

“Things were tough for me at school; I could not play freely because other pupils used to run away from me. Nobody used to greet me let alone touch my books. I was forced to drop out of school,” he says. Back at home, life was not smooth.

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One day, a local administrator warned him against being spotted in public because he posed a health danger. He says the administrator arrested and unclothed him.

Because of his condition, he has not been able to marry: “While growing up, I wished to marry and have children. But look, which woman can withstand my condition?” he asks.

Mwanzi does not travel either: whenever he boards a passenger vehicle, everyone alights, complaining of an unpleasant smell.

He depends on her sister for daily needs and drugs. She took him in after the death of their parents in 2000s. Her siblings chased him away from home.

She took him to Kituyi Central Hospital where he was given drugs but lesions continued spreading so fast, forming thick skin layers.

He was referred to the Kenyatta National Hospital where he was diagnosed with Darier’s disease. He had developed disfiguring lesions that occasionally discharged pus and became smelly.

Kyalo relocated to Nairobi after the death of her husband in 2008. She rented a house in Dagoretti but other tenants would abuse Mwanzi and threatened to vacate the plot saying he was scaring their children and that they could not live with the foul smell.

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A Good Samaritan who saw them evicted from the plot bought them a parcel of land and constructed them a permanent house.

Dr Beatrice Etemesi, a dermatologist based at the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital, says that Darier’s is hereditary disease which occurs between the ages of 10 and 20 years. A patient suffering from the disease forms a thicker skin that interferes with mechanism of the dead skin shedding itself.

The disease, she says, is not curable but can be treated and managed. The early signs are the formation of simple rushes on the face that further spread to other parts of the body.

Patients suffering from Darier’s disease are advised to avoid humid places because their skin.

Dr Etemesi says Mwanzi apparently sought treatment when the condition had advanced, making it difficult to manage it.

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