Although a special treatment campaign is on in Kamuli district to save victims of jiggers from premature death, any daring attempt to visit the countryside with open shoes will likely bring a few fleas between your toes.
Despite the establishment of treatment units in urban centres, complete eradication of the jigger to save poor rural Basoga living in shanty dusty structures that have become a luxurious habitat of the jigger flea is still an uphill task unless causal factors like poverty, ignorance and negative attitude towards work are addressed by government.
Just within less than two kilometers from the treatment centre at Kamuli town, you find numerous jigger sufferers who either due to inability or ignorance or negligence have never attended the clinic and are not bothered. In Bugirere village, Kitayundhwa sub-county, the LC-1 chairman, Moses Bazira, is almost going nuts following the refusal of the most affected residents to visit the treatment centre.
He vows to drag them to court for negligence.
“I am now left with no alternative but to sue these people for keeping jiggers in my village,” Bazira told The Observer on October 13 at his home.
He said many ill people had refused to go for treatment even after the government provided free transport and free treatment.
This question was not answered with seriousness by the residents. They said they have from time immemorial lived with the fleas and should not be bothered now.
“This government has better issues to address and is now resorting to meager things like jiggers,” said one man dressed in dirty garments.
The Buwaya LC-3 chairman in Mayuge, Nelson Wandira, is similarly opposed to the setting up of treatment centers. He says there is no jigger epidemic in the region, calling the media attention a deliberate attempt to divert government from more pertinent issues here.
However, the Kamuli LC-1 chairman, Bazira, admits jiggers are real in his village, even volunteering names of the most affected persons who have refused to go for treatment as James Lwamaza, Mazia Kalira and the children in the home of Naika David.
Bazira explained that the jigger epidemic started some two years ago in a few homes but has now spread all over the village. He attributed it to poverty, ignorance and extreme neglect of personal and home hygiene.
“The most affected are the adversely poverty stricken homes with families living in dusty grass thatched houses with mud walls together with livestock,” he said.
Most hit are children, the elderly, the mentally retarded and disabled persons. Betty Musalwa, a nurse at a drug shop in the district, says prior to the establishment of the treatment centre at Kamuli, most affected residents would go to her for treatment.
Musalwa still receives 15 jigger related cases on a daily basis. She says she gives the victims first aid and then refers them to a nearby health centre at Butayundhwa.
A bedridden Rose Matama, 72, of Namisambya village could not hold back tears when The Observer knocked at her door. According to her, she never expected any visitor at that particular time because her son normally opens her door in the morning and only returns in the evening with the single day’s meal to close the door for the night till the next day.
In a brief interview that followed the visit, she told her story amid tears rolling down her wrinkled cheeks. The old woman, whose fingers, toes and other visible parts of her body show evidence of jiggers underneath, believes she was bewitched by the same neighbours who killed her husband and have now sent the jigger fleas to kill her as well.
Matama, who refuses to believe that Western medicine can heal her, said she had never heard of the treatment centre in Kamuli town, about three kilometers away from her home.
“Since my childhood I have never seen such an attack of jiggers and the treatment of jigger victims has never been heard of, and I believe it cannot save me from those determined to send me to the grave like they did to my husband,” she said.
The old woman, who sleeps on a bare papyrus mat with nothing to cover her but her gomesi, said she has lost most of her friends after suffering from the jiggers. Surprised that this writer had dared enter her house, Matama said many people fear to do so for fear of carrying the jigger spirit sent to kill her.
The traditional chief of Kigulu in Iganga district agrees with Matama.
Chief Patrick Izimba Gologolo said ancestors of Basoga are angry that they have failed to install a Kyabazinga agreeable to all.
“Failure to install a Kyabazinga over the Busoga Kingdom has annoyed our ancestors who have resorted to sucking blood from residents through jiggers,” he said.
He added the epidemic can only increase despite government’s efforts. However, the Kamuli District Health Inspector, Alex Mulindwa, who is directly in charge of jigger eradication in the district, attributes the epidemic to poverty, ignorance and negligence in the observation of body and home hygiene.
Mulindwa explains that both due to poverty and ignorance, many residents share their tiny dusty houses with livestock, giving the fleas a chance to choose between humans or livestock as their host.
He warned that jiggers can kill by not only causing anemia and dehydration but also exposing those affected to other diseases, including HIV/AIDS through the sharing of the sharp implements used to extract them.
The Kamuli District Health Educator, David Mbadhwe, told this writer that Butanzi and Butayundhwa are so far the worst affected sub-counties.
He said his office is moving throughout the entire district sensitising residents to observe proper hygiene and not believe in misleading information that jiggers are a curse from ancestors.
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