Tungiasis Stigma and Control Practices in a Hyperendemic Region in Northeastern Uganda
Neglected tropical diseases are known to be highly stigmatized conditions. This study investigates tungiasis-related stigma and control practices in the impoverished Napak District in rural northeastern Uganda, where tungiasis is hyperendemic and effective treatment is unavailable. We conducted a questionnaire survey with the main household caretakers (n = 1329) in 17 villages and examined them for tungiasis. The prevalence of tungiasis among our respondents was 61.0%. Questionnaire responses showed that tungiasis was perceived as a potentially serious and debilitating condition and that tungiasis-related stigma and embarrassment were common. Among the respondents, 42.0% expressed judging attitudes, associating tungiasis with laziness, carelessness, and dirtiness, and 36.3% showed compassionate attitudes towards people with tungiasis. Questionnaire responses further indicated that people made an effort to keep their feet and house floors clean (important tungiasis prevention measures), but lack of water was a common problem in the area. The most frequent local treatment practices were hazardous manual extraction of sand fleas with sharp instruments and application of various and sometimes toxic substances. Reliable access to safe and effective treatment and water are therefore key to reducing the need for dangerous treatment attempts and breaking the vicious cycle of tungiasis stigma in this setting marked by poverty.