Intensify the war on jiggers

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BY LUCY KIBAKI

In the cause of my outreach work under the auspices of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS, I have campaigned on a wide range of issues affecting women and children.

Among other issues, I have paid particular attention to various health challenges that affect women and children in our country.  While many gains have been made in addressing these health challenges, I am concerned that jiggers continue to pose a serious challenge to men and women alike, and especially to children in many parts of the country. 

It is disconcerting to note that 2009 estimates by the Ministry of Public Health indicated that over four million people in different parts of Kenya were infested by jiggers and the number was likely to rise.

Infestation by jiggers has serious effects which include incapacitation which renders children incapable of attending school while disabling adults from walking or working, exposure of infected parts of the body to secondary infections, such as tetanus or leprosy, the spread of HIV/Aids and even death.  Besides these physical effects, jiggers have adverse psychological effects, including low self esteem and shame.

Kenyans will agree that it is unacceptable that such a tiny parasitic bug that is so well understood and so easy to control should continue to have such an impact in our society in the 21st century.

While the challenge of jiggers has everything to do with personal hygiene, its adverse effects on affected individuals and society as a whole speak for the need to step up concerted efforts by civil society as well as Government in fighting the menace.

While I appreciate the work being done by non-governmental organisations as well as the Government through the Ministry of Public Health, there is need to enhance interventions in order for us to eliminate the menace of jiggers once and for all.

In particular, I urge the Ministry of Public Health to step up interventions especially in spraying households to eliminate fleas.  Indeed, long-term protection against jiggers requires little more than basic hygiene and the watering of dusty havens around the house, as well as the fumigation and spraying of lawns and gardens with insecticides.

In addition to the Ministry of Public health, the Ministry of Education should also play a prominent role in the war against jiggers among school children. In particular, the Ministry should work closely with the Ministry of Public Health to ensure schools are sprayed and other necessary measures taken to ensure children are not infested with jiggers while in school. 

The Ministry of Education should also explore innovative ideas of fighting jiggers including ensuring that classrooms all over the country are cemented as well as making the wearing of shoes in primary schools mandatory just as it is in secondary schools.

Other innovative measures should include introducing school inspectors with the responsibility of ensuring proper standards of hygiene are maintained in schools. Daily screening of school children is also useful as problems can be detected in time and remedial action taken, where necessary in liaison with parents.

I also challenge legislators to use public meetings to enhance public education on the menace of jiggers and the need to maintain general cleanliness in their constituencies. It is must be borne in mind that ultimately it is the responsibility of parents to ensure that they eliminate fleas at the household level. Parents must take appropriate steps to ensure that neither they nor their children are infested with jiggers.

(Mrs Lucy Kibaki is the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya)

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