LIVIA Simoka winces in pain and swears under her breath as a nine-year-old girl digs a stick deep into the flesh of her toe to remove a parasitic bug.
She watches in fascinated horror as the “jigger worm” and its egg sack ooze from her skin.
“That's so disgusting,” she says. “How is that coming out of my own body?”
The Channel 4 journalist is in the rain forests of the Congo where she has spent five months with the endangered Mbendjele people for the documentary series Extreme Tribes: The Last Pygmies.
The first episode, which aired last week, focused on the group’s tribal rituals, including the painful practice of sharpening teeth into upside-down triangles for the sake of beauty.
There was also a row in the village when one tribe member was accused of causing the death of his sister-in-law by using sex as "witchcraft".
Tonight's instalment highlights the Pygmies’ fight for survival as their existence remains under threat from other tribes who frequently attack them.
With no doctors or medical facilities in the village, children learn the skills they need to survive in the jungle, including hunting, foraging and personal healthcare.
Although she is only nine, Cilian – dubbed "the worm queen" – checks the tribe every few days for the parasite known as the jigger worm, which burrows into the soles of feet and lays eggs.
The bug – which is actually a kind of flea – is commonly found in tropical and sandy areas and is so small you can’t feel it enter your skin.
But once in your skin the pinhead-sized bug grows up to 20 times its original size, to 1cm, and is able to burrow so deep into the body that a doctor would normally cut it out with a scalpel.
The resulting infection can cause inflammation, severe pain, itching and lesions which, in worst cases, can result in the sufferer being unable to walk.
“I got a jigger and Cilian is very, very excited to get her hands on it,” says Livia in the programme.
“A jigger is a little worm that buries itself into to your feet and then goes and lays its eggs, then you pop it out and squeeze the big egg sack out.
“Every couple of days Cilian goes around inspecting people's feet and hands. She's the absolute jigger queen.”
In stomach-churning scenes Cilian, who remains unflinching, digs out the worm with sharpened wooden stick as Livia explains it has been in her foot for a few days and “it's managed to gnaw right through me and create a great big sack of eggs."
As the white egg sack oozes out of her skin, she exclaims, “Look at the size of that beast. She [Cilian] absolutely loved that though.”
Despite her medical skills, Cilian will not train to be a doctor as the Pygmy children never leave the village for formal education.
The wealthier Bantu tribe consider themselves a superior race and have historically kept Pygmies as slaves.
A report in 2011 found that the Pygmy tribes were subject to constant discrimination from the Bantus, being made to work for nothing and are “considered by Bantu people as property in the same way that pets are."
Livia explains: "[Their village] Bonguinda used to be inhabited by the Pygmies and the Bantus.
"The Bantus moved down to the river to the neighbouring village of Munbalu but this is still Bantu land so they still feel like they have a bit of a hold on [the Pygmies].
"The relationship between them is really dark."
Extreme Tribes: The Last Pygmies airs tonight at 9pm on Channel 4.
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