Shoes could become the new mosquito nets if a new global initiative has anything to do with it. Instead of fighting malaria, however, Footwork seeks to eradicate a devastating tropical foot disease that affects millions across Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. A neglected yet treatable form of elephantiasis (so called because the affected limbs swell to enormous size), podoconiosis is found in highland tropical areas, where shoes are few and far between and subsistence farmers cultivate barefoot in volcanic clay soil. The ground is rife with not only mineral particles, but also skin burrowing round worms, that both can irritate and even damage the leg’s lymphatic system, resulting in a condition that disfigures, debilitates, and hinders livelihoods and quality of life. (Warning: Graphic images ahead.)

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Podoconiosis is non-infectious, but years of walking or ploughing barefoot on these clay soils leaves certain communities particularly susceptible. Although the disease itself is easily treated by foot-washing and with over-the-counter ointments, the low level of income in these areas means most cases fester.

Part of Footwork’s agenda is simply using shoes as a public health intervention.

As executive director of Footwork, Gail Davey envisions a world free of podoconiosis in her lifetime. A medical epidemiologist who has worked on podoconiosis since 2002, Davey coordinates international research teams to investigate the prevention and treatment of the condition, as well as to educate and advocate for affected communities.

Part of Footwork’s agenda is simply using shoes as a public health intervention. The organization has established links with more than 15 public and private partners, including TOMS, which already distributes shoes to children in 23 countries. “Wearing shoes not only helps prevent podoconiosis, but also a wide variety of foot-related afflictions such as wounds, parasitic worms, tetanus, Madura foot, jiggers, and snakebite,” Davey says. “Footwork will help enable shoes to be thought of as ‘the next bed-nets.'”

+ Footwork

[Via Medical Xpress]