She founded Gen Organics to cure her daughter’s eczema

Moreen Kashaija has been working on breaking beyond the borders. PHOTO BY JACOBS ODONGO SEAMAN

What you need to know:

  • After several visits to paediatricians and dermatologists, Moreen Kashaija deep-dived into the skincare market when her daughter’s skin condition forced her to look for the perfect products.

Moreen Kashaija’s joy of motherhood was taken away abruptly. Her daughter baby Anna Kezia suddenly developed red patches that grew into pronounced scale-like patterns. A quick check with the paediatrician returned the diagnosis of eczema.

Doctors say the cause of the allergic disease is not yet completely known. As it is with other diseases whose causes are not known, the cure sits in the same façade – not completely known. What most medics recommend then is how to manage the condition.

“I went to a number of dermatologists who continued to recommend creams and moisturisers that had no effect on my baby’s skin. The rash was a constant, and the itching seemed to intensify,” says Kashaija.

Eczema affects even adults but in toddlers, its offset often catches most parents unawares. This is especially when the allergy is showing up for the first time in a family.

That rash can be anything, from perspiration to a mild reaction, or so many would suspect. Then the severity progresses. Before long, a baby’s skin is scaly and at its worst, cracking with reddish wounds.

By this time, most parents who are confronting the phenomenon for the first time grow desperate and start kicking about for solutions.

Nothing prepapred her to become a skincare entrepreneur. Kashaija deep-dived into the skincare market when her daughter’s skin condition made her search for the perfect products to relieve the ailment.

As she scoured around for a solution to no avail, she realised that just ceasing to apply oils, soaps and powders entirely – as recommended by medics – on Baby Kezia was not going to do it.

She wanted a sure solution for her Kezia. But that sure solution has since turned into a bankable solution as her quest for baby cosmetic products led her straight into a business startup that is serving the demands of more than just toddlers.

But to get started, Kashaija had to make a big career decision. The graduate of Business Computing from Makerere University Business School quit a banking job of four years to dedicate time in finding solutions for baby Anna’s eczema.

The founder and chief executive of Gen Organics, a cosmetics startup, birthed the idea out of  frustration from having a child with eczema, with no solution on the market with start up capital of Shs12 million. 
What is eczema?
Also called atopic dermatitis, eczema is a skin condition that usually appears as an itchy, red patch on the hands, feet, backs of elbows and around knees, ankles and wrists. It also may affect a baby’s cheeks, chin, chest, forehead or scalp.

Eczema can appear in other areas too, though not usually the diaper area where moisture acts as a barrier.
Moderate to severe eczema isn’t just a skin condition.

According to Mayo Clinic, it’s a chronic, systemic disease that is thought to be linked to an overactive immune system and persistent inflammation.

For some patients, eczema can flare up unexpectedly – and the itch and rash that come with it can, at times, feel really intense. A quick search on Internet will tell a parent that the thing is painfully painful and at this point their guts will wrench as the realisation of the cause of their baby’s troubled sleep sets in.

A January 2021 study, published by the US Centre for Biotechnology, estimates the prevalence of eczema at 13.5 per cent in Uganda, and 8 per cent globally.

The study says an overlap in the risk factors for eczema was among schoolchildren in urban areas, suggesting that an underlying cause associated with exposure to urban lifestyles and environment in Uganda.

Eczema can be managed by the kind of soaps and oils you use, or the environment.This soap costs Shs20,000 and the Eczema moisturiser is Shs120,000.

“I have a team of professionals who have helped in building and formulating the different Gen products. I have a chemist and dermatologist on the team. I run other components of Gen Organics like administration and finances, ” she says.

Because the skin will overreact to substances taken into the body, or that come in contact with it, the condition keeps recurring even with the best treatments.

A person with eczema apart from a doctor’s treatment should look out for conditions or substances that kick-start the eczema and avoid them.

But one of the toughest things for a parent to take in is that very good medical advice for managing eczema. Just imagine hearing your doctor say “no soap, no oils, no vaseline, no lotion, no powder on your baby ever.”

As you drop these cosmetic items, the eczema will cease. That is a relief but realising that you have to bathe your baby with no soap for years will leave you numb and send you scouring places for “soap that cannot trigger eczema.”

So, how do you keep that bath with no soap or oils until your baby’s eczema trigger reduces and also expect the baby to be really clean after each bath?

Going organic
In going organic, Kashaija’s team targeted Albizia Coriaria tree, better known locally as mugavu, due to its properties such as richness in saponin – glucosides that form soapy lathers when mixed and agitated with water. The saponin makes mugavu good in the making of detergents and foaming agents and emulsifiers.

“We formulated a moisturiser with no scents and it is organic,” she says.
“Any product that contains fragrance is liable to trigger your eczema, but natural or organic products that contain scents may also worsen the situation.”