Footwork: Working to Eradicate Podoconiosis

In NTDs on February 15, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Global Health Africa contributor, Patrick Saunders Hastings, draws attention to Podoconiosis, a neglected tropical disease, and to Footwork, an initiative that offers hope of eradicating the disease.


Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) represent a group of medical conditions that affect over one billion people in developing regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. These diseases, which almost exclusively affect the poor, also exacerbates poverty and constrains development by limiting education opportunities, social well-being, and economic productivity.

Despite this, NTDs receive little attention in comparison to the “Big Three”: HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. For instance, in 2010, less than 1% of United States global health spending was allocated towards NTD initiatives, whereas HIV/AIDS accounted for 70%. Experts have identified NTD interventions as “amongst the most cost effective in global health”, and this is an area where action has potential for huge impact.

One largely overlooked NTD is podoconiosis, a form of elephantiasis that affects an estimated four million people worldwide, most of whom live in Ethiopia. Podoconiosis develops primarily among subsistence farmers as a result of walking barefoot on irritant red clay soil formed by the disintegration of lava. With symptoms very similar to lymphatic filariasis, podoconiosis results in progressive swelling of the legs, painful episodes, social exclusion, and productivity losses of about 45% of total annual working days. Podoconiosis can be entirely prevented through consistent use of shoes and socks. Unfortunately, it is widespread in poor areas of Africa, Central America, and India, and is considered a public health problem in 10 African countries.

However, there is reason for optimism. March of 2012 saw the launch of Footwork: the International Podoconiosis Initiative, a disease-specific health program with the goal of “a world free of podoconiosis within our lifetime”. Bringing together a variety of public and private partners, Footwork will pursue podoconiosis control and eradication through three strategic pillars: increased advocacy and awareness, new research and data collection, and the propagation of effective control interventions. By identifying best practices in the fight against podoconiosis, Footwork offers hope to some of the most disenfranchised.

Learn more about Footwork here


Department for International Development. (2012). UK to protect 140 million people from tropical diseases.  news/2012/Britain-to-protect-more-than-140-million-in-global-effort-to-rid-the-world-of- neglected-tropical-diseases

Desta, K., Ashine, M., & Davey, G. (2003). Prevalence of podoconiosis (endemic non-filarial elephantiasis) in Wolaitta, Southern Ethiopia. Tropical Doctor, 33, 217–220.

Footwork: The International Podoconiosis Initiative. (2012).

Gustavsen, K., Bradley, M., & Wright, A. (2009) GlaxoSmithKline and Merck: private-sector collaboration for the elimination of lymphatic filariasis. Annals of  Tropical Medicine and Parasitology, 103(1), 11-15.

Price, E. (1990) Podoconiosis: Non-filarial elephantiasis. Oxford: Oxford Medical Publications.

Tekola, F., Mariam, D., & Davey, G. (2006). Economic costs of endemic non-filarial elephantiasis in Wolaita Zone, Ethiopia. Tropical Medicine and International Health11(7), 1136-44.


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