Podoconiosis, also known as ‘podo’, is a non-filarial form of lymphoedema which is endemic to the tropical, highland areas of Africa, central America and Asia and affects an estimated four million people in Africa alone. The disease is caused by a reaction to the volcanic soils unique to these regions and symptoms include disfigurement of the feet and lower legs and painful disabling acute attacks.
Podo is prevalent among subsistence farming communities who spend the majority of their time working barefoot in clay soils. Years of exposure can result in debilitating mobility issues, affecting people’s ability to earn a living. Local stigmatisation of the disease results in affected people and sometimes also their families being ostracised from their communities.
Professor Gail Davey came across cases of podoconiosis in Ethiopia’s southern districts in 2001, while working at the School of Public Health at Addis Ababa University. Podoconiosis had been largely forgotten as a tropical disease in western medicine and was not recognised locally by health authorities. She began building a research programme with the long-term aim of finding a way to eliminate podo globally.
Podoconiosis research areas at BSMS
To date, research has mapped the distribution and defined the burden of podoconiosis in Ethiopia in terms of disease prevalence, economic cost and the effects on mental health and society. Aetiological research has identified genetic variants conferring susceptibility and plausible mineral triggers of the disease. Mapping studies have been extended to Cameroon and Rwanda as the Podoconiosis Global Atlas project progresses.
Clinical staging, stigma and quality of life tools have been developed, and co-endemicity with other neglected tropical diseases documented. Behavioural work has identified common misconceptions about the condition and barriers to healthcare access. A simple treatment package has been tested, and strategies of delivering this package piloted.
Research priorities over the next few years include finishing the global mapping of podoconiosis, further investigation into the immunology and pathogenesis of the disease, development of a point-of-care diagnostic test, and investigation of approaches to integrating care into state health systems, together with care of other foot-related diseases as well as building an understanding of the disease and its effects using a social science lens.
Several of these projects are supported through the NIHR Unit on Neglected Tropical Diseases and the 5S Foundation based at BSMS.
Researchers working on podoconiosis projects
Please click on each name to read more about their specific projects.
Prof Gail Davey >
Prof Melanie Newport >
Prof Abebaw Fekadu >
Dr Shahaduz Zaman >
Dr Kebede Deribe >
Dr Natalia Ivashikina >
Dr Mei Trueba >
Dr Maya Semrau >
Dr Papreen Nahar >
PhD students and post-doctoral research fellows:
Dr Maya Semrau >
Dr Belete Legesse
Dr Diana Alcantara >
Dr Tabassum-Ur-Razaq Qureshi
Dr Oumer Ali
Dr Abraham Tesfaye
Dr Osama El Nour
Dr Richard Kalisa