In the impoverished village of Khalegwe, nestled within Kenya’s Trans Nzoia County, a silent crisis unfolds, leaving its inhabitants crippled and their lives upended. The culprit: jiggers, tiny parasitic fleas that burrow into the skin, causing debilitating pain and hindering mobility.
The infestation has reached alarming proportions, with an estimated half of the village’s school-aged children unable to attend classes due to the excruciating discomfort. Gladys Nekesa, a grade four pupil, bears the scars of this affliction, her hands and legs riddled with jiggers that render her virtually immobile.
“I couldn’t finish my exams because the insects kept biting me,” she recounts, her voice laced with despair. “It was so painful to sit in class that I ended up last in my class of thirty.”
The journalist who visited Gladys Nekesa, a pupil afflicted by the jiggers.
Nekesa’s plight is far from unique. Isaac Juma, another villager, laments how jiggers have forced him to abandon his livelihood as a casual laborer. “I couldn’t continue working in the fields because the jiggers made it impossible to walk,” he explains.
The situation is further exacerbated by the village’s dire economic circumstances. Khalegwe is considered a rural slum, characterized by high rates of poverty, alcoholism, and crime. Villagers grapple with a lack of basic amenities, such as latrines and hygiene facilities, creating an environment conducive to the spread of jiggers.
Juma Kisogochi, a respected village elder, points to the poverty-infused conditions as a major factor in the jigger crisis. “Our small plots and lack of proper sanitation have led to an increase in the infestation,” he observes.
Solomon Kisogochi, a community health promoter working in the area, echoes these concerns, emphasizing the urgency of intervention to prevent fatalities. “The victims are too poor to afford medical care, and many are left permanently disabled,” he warns.
Gloria Wakasa, a healthcare provider, aligns with Kisogochi’s assessment, urging the county government to take swift action to curb the infestation. “We need a coordinated effort involving community healthcare workers to identify and treat the affected individuals,” she stresses.
In response to the village’s plight, a group of Trans Nzoia journalists under the Kitale Press Welfare Association has stepped up to provide immediate relief. They have distributed medicine and food to over a hundred families, offering a lifeline to those struggling under the weight of the jigger infestation.
Caren Lumbasi, the group’s vice-chairperson, explains their motivation: “Apart from our journalistic duty to inform the public, we felt compelled to give back to our audience by providing essential supplies to those affected by the jiggers.”
The journalists have also called upon local leaders and the county government to establish a fund to support the villagers, who are in dire need of assistance. “We urge them to explore ways to alleviate the villagers’ suffering and help eradicate the jigger menace from their lives,” Lumbasi adds.
The Khalegwe village saga highlights the devastating impact of jigger infestations on vulnerable communities. While the journalists’ efforts provide a glimmer of hope, concerted action from local authorities is crucial to address the root causes of this crisis and restore a semblance of normalcy to the lives of those affected.