From locally-made, low-cost herbal remedies to affordable hard floors for households, researchers and communities are developing new ways to deal with jiggers in Kenya.
Tungiasis is a disease caused by jiggers that burrow into the skin of their host.
Without quick intervention, it leads to a jigger infestation. Should the female die in the skin of its host, a secondary infection will result. This infection, if left untreated, could lead to tetanus, gangrene and even loss of the affected toe.
In Kenya, the poorest of the poor carry the highest burden of disease.
But its association with witchcraft, being cursed or, among the elderly, impending death, stigmatisation and ridicule of victims present challenges for its elimination.
A community in Watamu, however, is controlling tungiasis using a neem and coconut oil mix produced locally to treat cases, combined with spraying floors with neem solution and distributing closed shoes.
Deep in a village in Dabaso, Rachel Fondo who lives in a homestead with 20 children, says jiggers attacked their feet.
Severe infestation was reported in school children who could not extract the fleas. Their toes were swollen. The fleas also attacked the fingers and other parts of the body, the itch and inflammation unbearable.
When the condition became severe, they dropped out of school due to pain, ridicule and shame.
“The children would cry a lot. The itch would not let them sleep at night for a year, “she says.
That was before the potency and efficacy of the neem tree were discovered. To villagers, the tree that grows wildly in the area is probably the closest solution they have for jiggers.
Dabaso Tujengane, a community based organisation, has been treating the residents using a herbal remedy consisting of neem and coconut oil. They also spray house floors with neem solution (neem leaves soaked in fresh water for four days) in individual households affected by jigger infestation.
Rachel used the extract of the neem tree recommended by the group during an anti-jigger campaign. After the treatment, the children were healthy enough to start attending school.
“We were given the tanks and we would dip the neem tree leaves and spray the water in the houses. You also spray the beds and there are no more fleas here. It kills the jiggers,” says Ms Fondo.
And so far, according to Dabaso Tujengane Chairman Sammy Baya, the neem and coconut oil have had a high success rate in the more than 90 schools and households they have visited.
They also make neem and coconut soap. “At first we used the potassium permanganate. We found that most of the jiggers were not killed. Because of the colour that remains on the children’s feet after you have soaked them, they were teased, “he said.
Researchers ran a clinical trial of the new herbal remedy made using coconut oil and neem tree oil that could change the way tungiasis is treated.
According to Lynne Elson, a research fellow at Kemri Wellcome Trust, a study was done to determine whether neem and coconut oil reduce inflammation, pain and itching better than the standard treatment in seven days.