Getting the jump on jiggers

A couple of years ago, while I was traveling in Uganda, I thought that I had a blister or a plantar wart on the end of my little toe. I even bought new running shoes to try to remedy the situation.

Little did I know.

When I was sitting on a patio in sandals, one of my African friends looked at my foot. “You have a jigger.” he said. I pooh-poohed this suggestion but he insisted. ” I know jiggers. When I was a kid I had so many of them. Sometimes when I was going to fetch water, I would sit down and cry because my feet hurt so much.”

I was surprised when my friend “delivered” this cyst full of jigger eggs out of the tip of my right pinkie toe.

“I can cut it out for you.” he offered.

He could have started that sentence with “I’m no doctor, but …”

So as he whittled away at my toe, extracting a lump that was the size of a small kernel of corn from the tip, I learned about jiggers.

Jiggers (quite different from chiggers) are little fleas that live in the soil. They are a common plight in East Africa. The female finds some flesh into which she can burrow and produce hundreds of eggs which are encased in a cyst-like structure that gradually grows within the flesh of the host. Eventually the cyst bursts and the eggs scattered back into the dirt where the cycle starts again.

These fleas live in tropical environments where people are often barefoot or wearing minimal footwear. In addition, traditional homes and even schools and churches often have dirt floors, the perfect environment for the jiggers to flourish. Children’s feet in crowded, dirt-floored classrooms are particularly vulnerable to infestation.

The CanAssist African Relief Trust learned of this plight for children in the Hope for Youth School near Mukono Kenya. The teachers insisted that cementing the floors of the classrooms would help eliminate this scourge. So, with money raised by the children at Sweet’s Corners School near Lyndhurst, Ontario, CanAssist set about cementing the floors of the Hope for Youth School.

The children of Sweet’s Corners Elementary School helped their African counterparts by funding the cementing of school floors to prevent jiggers.

The children at Hope for Youth school were happy to show me their healthy feet after the classroom floors had been cemented to prevent jiggers.

With development projects it is often difficult to evaluate outcomes. But for this one it seemed relatively simple.

I had the school check the feet of all 107 children in the classrooms before the flooring was installed. 74% of the kids had jiggers and more than half of these had more than three in their feet. A few months after the floors were cemented, I was in the school and personally checked the feet of all the same children. The prevalence of jiggers went from 74% to 7%. The children were delighted.

The cost of this project was in the range of $1500  It brought relief to over 100 children and also demonstrated that cement floors that can be washed and swept can stop a jigger infestation.

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