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Foot note 2: Neglected “shoe” disease gets recognition by WHO

One neglected disease is a little bit less neglected today. The World Health Organization has decided to recognize that lack of shoes causes disease.

A month ago, I wrote about Dr. Gail Davey’s campaign to gain wider recognition of a little known foot disease called podonociosis that afflicts the poorest of the poor simply because they lack shoes.

Davey, who first encountered “podo” working in Ethiopia, says this disorder appears to afflict millions of people living in remote and very poor villages, causing massive disability and disfigurement that is often misdiagnosed as as a parasitic disease elephantiasis.

“This is a disease that is directly caused by extreme poverty, by people too poor to buy shoes,” Davey says.

How can we hope to help the poor by solving much more complex problems, she says, if there appears so little interest in just getting shoes to people to prevent this disease?

Foot with podoconiosis

I had also noted in my previous post that the World Health Organizations neglected to mention this highly neglected disease in its new Neglected Tropical Disease report.

The problem, Davey says, had been sort of a Catch-22:

“Many people thought this must either be a trivial disease or very rare, or they would have heard of it,” she says.

In reality, lack of recognition is caused by the fact that this disease hits the very poorest of the poor who still remain out of sight and reach of most anti-poverty, global health and development projects.

WHO has decided now to include “podo” on its list of neglected tropical disease, Davey told me today, which she hopes will both raise awareness of this affliction and support efforts to prevent it by making sure nobody is permanently disabled simply because they can’t afford shoes.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.