Reporters Diary: Fighting the jigger parasite

Bungoma town in Western Kenya

In the Western part of Kenya, in Bungoma county lies Siritanyi village.

It is in this area that we meet an aged, frail-looking Mama Taphrosa Nasipwondi who welcomes us to her humble homestead, a one-room, grass-thatched mud house.

Mama Taphrosa Nasipwondi at her homestead. PHOTO/Dinah Matengo

She can hardly walk, much less work or take care of herself because of tungiasis, an inflammatory skin disease caused by the jiggers parasite.

The crooked fingernails, toes and swollen feet are all indicators of a major jiggers infestation.

“As you see me here, I’m really ailing, there’s nothing I can do in this homestead’’, says Nasipwondi.

Her story is one that is a very familiar one in Bungoma County.

The jiggers parasite thrives in sandy, dusty and unsanitary environments. And the impoverished neighborhoods that populate Western Kenya serve as the perfect breeding ground.

Not too far away from Ms. Nasipwondi’s home another jiggers victim, Vincent Sifuna is receiving treatment for a recurring tungiasis infection.

Vincent Sifuna washing his feet beforehand. PHOTO/Dinah Matengo

Mr. Sifuna lives alone but pigs, dogs and other animals frequently roam in or around his home.  He too is poor and doesn’t earn enough income to afford a decent, clean home. As a result, the parasites rapidly multiplied and infected him.

View of Sifuna’s house. PHOTO/Dinah Matengo

Fortunately, for Sifuna and Nasipwondi there is help.

Nasipwondi’s feet before she gets the jiggers treatment. PHOTO/Dinah Matengo

I accompanied a man named Lewis Nyamori as he treated both victims.

Lewis dealt with a jiggers infestation when he was young but was able to receive adequate medical treatment and is no longer impaired by tungiasis. He helps direct an anti-jiggers campaign in Bungoma because he wants to help others as he was helped.

Lewis disinfecting her feet by washing them in soaked water. PHOTO/Dinah Matengo

Armed with a pair of gloves, gauze and cotton wool he takes a basin with water and pours antiseptic to wash the affected areas with clean water and soap.

This he says it’s to disinfect the leg. Ms. Nasipwondi observes what is been done to her feet.

The leg is now then soaked again in Hydrogen peroxide solution (Mixed as one tablespoon to 5 liters of clean water) for 15 minutes.

As this is ongoing, Lewis has a conversation with Nasipwondi and while at it she seems uneasy trying to cover an open wound on her left leg, and upon inquiry, Lewis tells us it’s the ripple effect of jiggers.

Nasipwondi asking Lewis to be mindful of her open wound on her left leg. PHOTO/Dinah Matengo

“When the jiggers embed in places with friction such as the joints or in places where their growth is limited, for example, under the nails, they are likely to burst hence leaving gaping wounds around the leg.’’

Occasionally, Nasipwondi would recoil in pain as Lewis would cut out the sores some resulting to blood.

After half an hour, the procedure now complete and allowed to dry naturally; then afterward petroleum jelly applied-a happy Nasipwondi with her new shoes is seeing chatting with her fellow village mates who have now surrounded her homestead. Mr. Sifuna goes through the same procedure.

…It’s only fair for her now to admire her feet….PHOTO/Dinah Matengo

On our final journey in the area, we meet Rosemary Mutoka, who is happy to have fully recovered from jiggers.

We meet her plowing on her shamba and her house well arranged as though she was expecting guests.

Rosemary Mutoka in her shamba. PHOTO/Dinah Matengo

We joke, ’’your house is sparkling’’, She tells us, “Ever since I recovered I have joy cleaning this house and this is how It looks like every day’’

She is now full of life and is thankful for the mission Lewis has been conducting in this village.

“I had a lot of jiggers that really disturbed me, but ever since I got the treatment, I got better. You really helped me and should continue with that initiative as you helped those without the knowledge.”

Lewis Nyamori, gifts a young girl in this village who has also recovered from the parasite. PHOTO/Dinah Matengo

Nyamori’s anti-jigger campaign has numerous challenges, including a lack of funding.

“As of now we haven’t received any donors or funds, it’s from our own contribution we’ve approached a lot of local donors but they’ve promised us they’ll do this; they’ll do that- but actually they’ve haven’t it’s from our own contribution, we buy shoes and medicine”.

With poverty and uncleanliness being the main cause of jiggers he asks those he treats to ensure that they water their compound to avoid dust. For those who can’t afford cement to plaster their house, he says cow dung is an option to prevent the parasite.

Lewis Nyamori doing the interview with reporter Dinah Matengo, standing along is cameraman Kelvin Mokaya

He says despite all the challenges he comes across he is not planning giving up.

“Something that comes from within you that prompts you to help; you shouldn’t have any thoughts to abandon this thing; as for me it’s from within it’s my passion there’s no point I’ll say enough is enough , I don’t have funds there’s no one to help me and let me leave it, No! No! my prayer is that God will touch someone somewhere and someone will come in and help me.”

Lewis Nyamori with shoes he gives to the villagers after treating them. PHOTO/Dinah Matengo