NGO provides Ugandans with footwear to protect against life-threatening parasites

Sole Hope Executive Director Dru Collie speaks with children seated in a circle as they wear their new shoes soon after undergoing jigger removal and treatment by Sole Hope in Kalebera village, Jinja district, eastern Uganda on August 6, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

It was a shocking sight.

Mr Yusuf Kagwa, a 45-year-old farmer in eastern Uganda, was covered with flea parasites.

He had more than 2,500 burrow marks caused by the jigger parasite - female sand fleas that burrow their way under skin - which is widespread in the eastern, northern and north-eastern parts of Uganda.

If left untreated, the parasite could lead to secondary infections that can be fatal.

Mr Yusuf had become an outcast after fellow villagers said his infestation showed he was possessed.

When his condition became severe, only his brother was prepared to run the risk of helping him, putting Mr Yusuf in a hut on his own for him to die.

A Reuters photographer, Mr James Akena, came to know about Mr Yusuf's parasite infestation through a friend who works with a non-government organisation (NGO) and had travelled to Uganda.

Mr Yusuf became the face of Mr Akena's story, which he chronicled through a blog.

Sole Hope, a US NGO which was already helping the villagers in Uganda, heard about Mr Yusuf's plight through its grassroots monitors.


Mr Yusuf went through a painful treatment - which lasted about three weeks - that would bring even the toughest men to tears.

The affected areas were washed before the jiggers were removed using safety pins and razor blades.

After Mr Yusuf returned to his village, news spread quickly that he came back not only alive, but jigger-free.

People gathered in large numbers to ask him questions and shook his hand.

More importantly, others came forward to be treated.

Before he was healed, Mr Yusuf used to drag himself around.

Now he wears shoes, standing upright and smiling. He has plans to get married and start a family.

The problem of jiggers is mainly due to poor hygiene as very few people can afford even sandals, Mr Akena wrote in his blog.

But education is also important, as locals often talk about infestation as a sign of being possessed.

Encouraging people to cover their feet is part of the battle against the parasite.

Once treated, children get excited when the NGO gives them new shoes, made from donated jeans material and old tyres.

This article was first published on October 6, 2015.
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