How Old Jeans Are Helping People With Jiggers in Uganda

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KAMPALA, Uganda — A blood-sucking flea that chews its way into people’s bodies and lays hundreds of eggs that infest and eat away the skin of its victims may sound like fiction right out of a horror film. Tragically, it is a reality for thousands of people in Uganda. Jiggers are a common parasitic skin disease in Uganda that has largely been untreated and left to wreak havoc in the lives of lower-income families. However, Sole Hope is using old jeans to restore hope and bring healing to people with jiggers in Uganda.

What are Jiggers?

Jiggers, officially known as Tungiasis, is an infestation of sand fleas that causes a parasitic skin condition. Sand fleas, or jiggers, burrow into a person’s skin, usually entering through the feet, and feed on their host’s blood. Upon first entering the body, the jigger is nearly invisible. However, within days of feeding, it swells and enlarges, creating a pea-sized lump under the skin.

While feeding on their hosts’ blood, jiggers continuously lay eggs that will hatch, mature and grow. These hatchlings lay more eggs, repeating the cycle and leading to a painful infestation. While jiggers can lead to severe infections and in some cases death, the most common problems associated with jigger infestations include pain in the affected areas, inflammation, infection, ulcerations and loss of toenails.

In 2012, jiggers reportedly affected 2.4 million people in Uganda. In 2010, 20 people were reported dead from jiggers. Jiggers often impact lower-income and poverty-stricken communities that lack access to proper hygiene facilities. Many of these people do not have shoes and live in dirt-floor houses with animals roaming in and out. All these conditions leave them susceptible to the parasite. Many in Uganda believe jiggers are an untreatable “curse.” So, some are ostracized from their communities if they become infested, never receiving the treatment and help they need.

Sole Hope in Uganda

In 2013, after seeing first-hand the pain and devastation caused by jiggers in Uganda, the Collies, a family from the U.S., were determined to help. They first searched for a local Ugandan program that was working to tackle the widespread jigger problem but found none, so Sole Hope was born. The NGO’s mission is simple, it works to transform and restore people’s lives by removing jiggers and ensuring once-infested people remain jigger-free.

To accomplish this goal, Sole Hope conducts clinics in rural villages, removing thousands of jiggers in a single day. The process involves making an incision in the infected skin and removing the jigger’s egg sack. This quick but often painful procedure is repeated hundreds or even thousands of times on a person’s body until they are declared 100 percent jigger-free. But it’s not that simple, shares Sole Hope: “There is so much more to jigger removal and long-term care than hosting a clinic.” Since jiggers most often enter through the host’s feet, Sole Hope knew providing shoes to jigger victims would be key to ensuring they remain jigger free. This is where old jeans come in.

Old Jeans and Jiggers

Made from donated denim, recycled plastic milk jugs and old tires, Sole Hope’s shoes are both sturdy and cost-effective. Sole Hope offers a shoemaking party kit for purchase on their website. People from all over the world can purchase the shoemaking kit, which includes the shoe pattern and instructional materials. They then host a shoe cutting party where friends and family can spend an evening cutting up their old jeans for a cause. The individual pieces are sent to Sole Hope where they are then shipped off to Uganda and assembled by local tailors and shoemakers.

Sole Hope actively employs more than 60 Ugandans. In addition to removing jiggers and providing communities with shoes, Sole Hope educates Ugandans about jiggers, what they are, how you get them and how to remain jigger-free. It teaches children, adults and communities how to properly combat the parasite through clean water and removal supplies. Sole Hope also addresses and debunks commonly held false beliefs about jiggers being a “curse.”

Jiggers affect countless Ugandans, stealing their lives and hope from them. Thanks to Sole Hope, jiggers in Uganda are becoming less of a threat, and thousands of Ugandans are now enjoying a restored life without the disease.

-Sarah Musick
Photo: Flickr

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