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Family faces stigma over jiggers

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Maureen Odiwuor | May 31st 2015

Simon Onyango and Lilian Adhiambo and their three children know what agony is.

By the end of last year, the residents of Sanda Village in Siaya County’s West Alego location could as well pass as a happy family, and were looking forward to welcoming a new addition to their family since Adhiambo was pregnant.

In December last year, they were a happy family, and Adhiambo was bubbly, was preparing to deliver her third child.

The baby, a boy, was born one month ago, but there is no happiness in the Onyango household as the family of five has been infected with jiggers, and even their youngest son is a victim.

The jigger menace that has frustrated them since the beginning of this year has added to their misery of living in abject poverty with no source of livelihood.

Ideally, they have become slaves of the parasite.

Onyango, 32, was the first to get jiggers, and as time went by, his family members, including the new-born, got them as well.

His 24-year-old wife is worst affected. Adhiambo’s hands, legs, elbows and even thighs have not been spared.

She says life had not been worth living for about four months considering that she had to deal with the stigma associated with the infestation.

“It has been tough for us since other villagers avoid interacting with us because they fear we can infect them with jiggers,” she says.

Life is bearable

“Life has been made harder because we are unable to till our land from where we get our food.”

She says this is the first time she has had jiggers and she hates what she has been going through.

The plight of Onyango’s family was known when when Rosella Rasanga, wife of Siaya County Governor Amoth Rasanga, made a fact-finding trip to Sanda after word reached her that many people in that village were suffering due to jiggers.

She recommended that they be taken to Siaya County Referral Hospital because the new-born baby was also infected and seemed malnourished.

“Since we came here, life has been a bit bearable,” says Adhiambo, who adds that sleep had become a luxury.

“The jiggers used to cause a lot of discomfort for my entire family.”

According to Tobias Ndege, the head of operations of Standard Prestige Jusi, the situation in the home is unbearable.

“We have sprayed the house and compound and we feel the clothes in this house need to be burnt to completely eradicate the jiggers,”

After reading about the plight of the Onyangos in The Standard on Sunday last week, he decided to fumigate their house and ten others in the village, for free.

Ndege says he bought chemicals then took two of his employees to help him fumigate houses in the area.

Entire village

“The compound is badly infested and the parasites were jumping on us immediately we set foot there,” he says, adding that he does not have the capacity to fumigate the entire village which is  heavily infested.

“I urge the county government to assist me in doing this. I am sure this can be history in two weeks.”

Chrispine Opondo, a neighbour of the Onyangos, agrees that the village is in need of assistance.

“I can confidently say the entire village is infested,” he says, as he displays his hands. “My wife too has this problem and there is a family in this area which lost some of its members to jiggers.”

He says that if only the Onyangos receive treatment and the rest of the villagers are ignored, chances of re-infection are very high.

He could be right.

Surprised and shocked

Onyango’s mother, Rosa Mbata has also fallen victim and her hands and feet are infested.

Her condition made life even harder for her son’s family because there was no one who could feed them.

The West Alego Location chief, Vitalis Aluoch says he was shocked and surprised when he found out that the area had a jigger problem.

“When I heard the news, we began to map out which villages are affected,” he says. “The situation is worse in schools and we found about 400 pupils with jiggers in various schools.”

The worst hit schools, he says, are two, and collectively they have 150 pupils who have jiggers.

“There are pupils who cannot even attend school because of the pain and discomfort,” chief Aluoch says.

“Teachers should inform the authorities about such cases so that action can be taken and the local dispensaries can also be supplied with necessary resources for treating victims.”

While the area chief is flailing his arms in despair, back at the Siaya County Referral Hospital, the Onyangos are experiencing a new way of life. A life without the pain of infection.

By the beginning of the week, the entire family was at the hospital and were responding well to treatment.

Penina Onyango, the head nurse, said they have been counselling the Onyangos on personal hygiene and proper nutrition.

“We have talked to them on how to maintain personal and environmental hygiene to avoid re-infection,” she says.

Siaya Sub County Public Health Officer Hillary Okumu says the family had reached the post-infection stage and had started having extension of infections.

“When infected with jiggers, one can be malnourished, have anaemia, secondary bacterial infections and infected wounds. Some of these were seen in the Onyango family,” he says.

The family does not need to worry about re-infection because after The Standard on Sunday highlighted their plight last week, well-wishers came to their aid.

Issues of nutrition

Peter Omoth, the Siaya Sub County Clinical Officer, commends the community heath workers for reporting the case because the family was in a bad situation when they were admitted. “They had issues of nutrition, infections all over their bodies and wounds that are still being treated with using antibiotics,” he says.

The chair of Safeguard Women and Orphans Organisation, Peter Oduor, donated cement for plastering the house because the parasite thrives in dusty places.

“Together with other well wishers, we have donated bedding, clothes and food so they do not continue suffering when they leave the hospital,” he says. “We want them to go back to a new environment.”

Their old bedding, mostly rags, will be set on fire to stop the jiggers from  breeding, said   Ndege.

Mrs Rasanga says they intend to have a consultative meeting with stakeholders in the county   to agree on appropriate interventions  for villages infested with jiggers.

“We have realised that some measures worsen the situation while others are not even effective.

“This is why we want to bring together key players in the health sector, and even non-State bodies to help us in eradicating jiggers,” she says.

She says many organisations usually hold medical camps for one day and wash patients, then leave.

However, they do not know that for the process to be effective, it needs to be repeated for about two weeks and houses also have to be fumigated.

“We do not want people to emerge only for publicity. We intend to train community health workers and villagers to help us identify affected homes and also to equip local dispensaries with drugs,” she says.

They also intend to treat pupils in about 250 schools in the county.

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