I pride myself about knowing a thing or two about diseases most people have never heard about before. It makes for wonderful dinner conversation to discuss the horrible worm diseases (or when I am trying to really impress: helminthic diseases) that cause a multitude of disfiguring or disabling conditions that afflict the poorest of the poor in developing countries. Therefore it was a bit embarrassing when my lunchtime conversation with Owen Barder, a development economist and blogger, led us to discuss podoconiosis – a disease that I had never heard of before – yet it afflicts millions of people in Ethiopia, other parts of Africa, Central America, and even India.
As it turns out, podoconiosis is actually a form of a disease I do know something about – lymphatic filariasis – but unlike the *vastly* more popular version of the disease that is caused by worm, podoconiosis is a non-infectious version that is believed to be caused by frequent exposure to the red clay soils that are common in many parts, in particular the mountainous parts, of Africa. It mainly afflicts poor farmers in remote mountainous areas that are too poor to regularly wear shoes and socks when tending to their fields. It leads to essentially the same symptoms as the helminthic version of the disease: extreme disfigurement, loss productivity, and social exclusion of its victims.
Like regular LF, podoconiosis suffers benefit from regular washing of the affected area, mostly to remove the irritants and prevent bacterial and fungal infections of the area but presumably does not benefit from the distribution of anti-helminthic drugs such as albendazole, ivermectin, or diethylcarbamazine. It is a neglected, neglected tropical disease. But prevention is relatively straightforward: the regular use of sturdy shoes and socks. I was suprised to learn that there is actually a company – Toms Shoes – that has already committed to donating shoes to people in affected areas.
I guess we can learn a thing or two from an economist.
To read more on podoconiosis see: Podoconiosis: non-infectious geochemical elephantiasis Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Volume 101, Issue 12, Pages 1175-1180 G. Davey, F. Tekola, M. NewportShare on Facebook