Kenya may as well be the ‘Jiggers Nation’.  Initially seen certain regions’ problem, jiggers have become a national shame.

For the first time, Kenya admitted that there are around 2 million Kenyans infested with jiggers. It has now become a significant health issue with the country inaugurating a National Jiggers Day yesterday, an event graced by the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta.

Speaking during the launch of the National Policy Guidelines on the Prevention and Control of Jigger infestation in the country, Mrs Kenyatta revealed that around 2 million Kenyans in 24 counties are suffering from the effects and social stigma associated with jiggers. “Another 10 million Kenyans are at risk of infestation, implying that the policy we are launching today could not have come at a more opportune time,” said the First Lady.

She said the jigger menace was not only a socio-economic burden to the victims but to the economy of the entire country, lauding Kenyans who have come on board to address the plight of the long-suffering jigger victims, mostly children, the elderly and handicapped Kenyans. “I am delighted to lead the nation in launching the National Policy Guidelines on Prevention and Control of Jigger Infestations in Kenya today,” she added.

The guidelines, which have been developed through collaboration of various stakeholders including the Ministry of Health, emphasise on a multi-sectorial approach addressing the underlying causes of jigger infestations, including awareness creation, social support and poverty reduction.

“Unlike other diseases which do not discriminate between social classes, jigger infestations have socio-economic risk factors which include social neglect, poor housing, inadequate water supply and sanitation, and poor domestic and personal hygiene. As such, it is a disease of the vulnerable and neglected households,” she remarked.

Citing other countries like Mexico which had achieved a jigger-free status after successfully battling with the problem of endemic jigger infestations, the First Lady expressed optimism that the vermin can be eliminated in Kenya. “There is no reason why Kenya cannot make a similar achievement. I therefore, urge all the concerned stakeholders to do their part, and work closely with each other towards the realization of this national and humanitarian goal,” noted Mrs Kenyatta.

The policy guidelines outline measures of prevention, control and the eventual eradication of jiggers in the country. They are also aimed at strengthening the capacity of jigger control and advocating for use of pesticides to control the pests at the household level. They also take medical practitioners through a treatment procedure for the jiggers in addition to a nationwide survey of jigger prevalence.

Jiggers or chigoe flea, are parasitic arthropods usually found in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Introduced to Sub-Saharan Africa from their native Central and South America, the female 1-mm-long-flea burrows into an exposed skin on the feet of a mammal, remaining there for two weeks while developing eggs. This time, the feet swell dramatically and cause excruciating irritation, a condition called tungiasis that make a victim unable to walk. In serious conditions, a victim may be forced to undergo amputation. Jiggers can easily be controlled through personal hygiene and eradication of the fleas (vectors).

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