Preventing podo: Researchers discuss aims to eliminate devastating condition in new podcast

Gail Davey, Professor of Global Health Epidemiology at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), and Melanie Newport, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Global Health at BSMS, have discussed their efforts to eliminate podoconiosis (podo), the little known but devastating, neglected tropical disease, in a new podcast.

In the second episode of the Impacted podcast , which spotlights the work of researchers based at the University of Sussex, Professors Davey and Newport discussed their global health research with hosts Suzanne Fisher-Murray and Will Hood.

Prof Davey came across cases of podo, which had been largely forgotten as a tropical disease in western medicine, in Ethiopia’s southern districts in 2001, while working in the School of Public Health at Addis Ababa University. She began building a PhD Public Health programme, encouraging further research into the disease, with the long-term aim of finding a way to eradicate it globally.

Speaking to the Impacted podcast, Professor Davey said: “If we think about the long-term goal of eliminating podo, then we have to think very carefully about prevention as well as about treating patients who are already affected.

"The more time I spend in affected communities, the more I’m aware of the fundamental importance of the right messages getting across so people understand what the disease is, what causes it and what they can do themselves to prevent it, so that they take responsibility for protecting themselves and their children against the disease.

“It’s no good having government facilities offering treatment if nobody in the area realises that the disease is both preventable and treatable. You have got to get the messages out there first because there is a very deep, in-built fatalism about the condition after many decades of neglect.”

In the episode, Professor Newport also discussed the multi-disciplinary approach the Global Health team at BSMS have adopted in order to tackle podo, which includes research into the epidemiology, immunology, genetics and social impact of podo.

Podo is a form of elephantiasis found in the tropical, highland areas of Africa, Central America and Asia, where the volcanic soil causes extreme painful swelling of the feet and lower limbs. It is most prevalent in the subsistence farming communities who spend the majority of their time working barefoot in these irritant soils. Years of exposure can result in debilitating mobility issues, affecting a person’s earning ability and local stigmatisation of the disease results in them, and even their entire families, being ostracised from their communities.

Podo affects an estimated 1.6 million people in Ethiopia alone, at an annual cost of $200 million per year in lost productivity.

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