Podoconiosis: The Reality and the Hope
By Marketing and PR Intern Seth Crawford
There are certain diseases that everyone, for one reason or another, just knows about. These are the diseases that CNN and other news outlets constantly tell us are ravaging the Third World. Given their impact and severity, they receive a lot of media coverage as well as efforts from humanitarian aid groups.
Diseases like malaria, cholera and HIV/AIDS deserve all of the attention, dollars and efforts paid to them. In fact, they probably deserve more. But the well-known diseases are not the only illnesses that plague the world’s impoverished.
In 2007, the World Health Organization published a global plan to promote awareness and design ways to combat a group of infections known as the Neglected Tropical Diseases. 90% of this burden is carried by Africa, Asia and Latin America. (WHO).
Several of the diseases on the NTD list can be easily prevented by simply wearing a pair of shoes, but because at least 80% of the world’s population live on less than $10 a day (GlobalIssues), shoes often fall by the wayside.
One such NTD is hookworm, a parasitic disease that affects 1/10 of the world’s population. It can be contracted from walking on contaminated soil as well as through ingestion (Sabin). However, there is one disease, podoconiosis, which should be easier to prevent despite having more severe symptoms that are more difficult to treat.
Podoconiosis is a fancy term for a type of “elephantitis”. The disease is primarily found among barefoot farmers in regions home to a type of red clay derived from volcanic deposits. This kind of soil is found in the following African countries: Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Cameroon and Tanzania. The two countries where the disease is most prevalent, Ethiopia and Cameroon, account for 1.5 million affected people.
Podoconiosis causes itchy, hot skin that eventually leads to a thickening of the skin and underlying tissues resulting in painful growths on the feet and legs. Often times the growths are deep enough to alter the bones. It can become so severe on feet as to hinder the affected person from walking. The Carter Center reports that this form of elephantiasis is one of the most common causes of disability in the world.
If the actual physical symptoms aren’t bad enough, affected persons suffer widespread, intense stigmatization. Due to the grotesque transformation podoconiosis has on the body, infected people are excluded from schools, religious meetings, and barred from marriage with unaffected individuals. This can cause infected persons to lose their jobs or fail to receive adequate education.
WHO puts the number of people affected by the disease at more than 120 million, with 40 million of them, disfigured and incapacitated by it.
But, there is hope!
The Tropical Medicine Central Resource says, “Podoconiosis could be completely prevented if those at risk were to wear shoes.”
WHO lists the top two preventions as 1) wearing shoes and 2) following a daily regiment of foot washing with soap and water. I don’t know if it was to make a point, but in its description of the foot washing regiment, WHO concludes with, “and use of socks and shoes.”
Being that Samaritan’s Feet’s mission is to provide hope and sanitation through washing feet and distributing shoes, we are both saddened and encouraged by the facts around podoconiosis. On the one hand, there are millions suffering from an easily preventable infection, while on the other hand, Samaritan’s Feet has the resources and commitment necessary to preventing it.
For information on how you can help in the fight against podoconiosis, contact Samaritan’s Feet by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.