Podoconiosis, or podo, is a form of elephantiasis caused by many years of barefoot contact with irritants in highland red clay soil. The disease, which is both physically and socially devastating for the sufferer, has been identified in 15 countries in the tropics of Central and South America, Africa and Asia.
Podoconiosis in Ethiopia
However, it is Ethiopia, a country synonymous with some of the world’s finest coffee beans, which has more recorded cases than anywhere else in the world – over 1.6 million people there suffer from the debilitating disease. With a further 38 million people at risk, podo is a genuine threat to the lives of some of the planet’s poorest and most vulnerable.
Perhaps almost as shocking as the great number of people suffering with or at risk of contracting the disease, is that podo is actually 100% preventable.
Gail Davey, Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) came across cases of podo 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. She says:
“We can eliminate podo in our lifetime by delivering a simple and inexpensive programme of treatment and prevention.”
In September 2018, Professor Davey and colleagues from BSMS organised the First International Podoconiosis Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The conference was billed as the ‘first step to eliminating a disabling foot disease’ and it called on health leaders to unite in tackling the condition.
Professor Davey said: “We were delighted to host the first ever conference on this little known but debilitating condition. As Ethiopia bears the highest burden of podoconiosis globally and has so far made the most progress into understanding and tackling the condition, Addis Ababa made the ideal setting for such a conference.”
For as little as £15 per patient, per year this little-known, but widespread and treatable tropical disease can become a thing of the past for millions of people in Ethiopia and around the world.
During the course of Sussex’s Preventing Podo campaign, an exciting new partnership between the University and Small Batch Coffee Roasters has evolved. As there are more recorded cases of podo in Ethiopia, where the origins of coffee have been traced back to, Sussex alumni and Small Batch founder Al Tomlins and Head of Marketing & Digital, Nick Barlow, seized the opportunity to support this great cause. Explaining how Small Batch came to partner with Sussex, Nick said:
“We got involved with podo when we were approached to feature in Falmer, the Sussex alumni magazine. They mentioned the podo charity and its connections with Ethiopia – a country we do a lot of work in – and it just made a lot of sense to be involved together.”
To launch this collaboration in 2017, Small Batch hosted a themed evening with Ethiopian food, beer and music at their Jubilee Street branch, profits from which were generously donated to Sussex’s Preventing Podo campaign. In addition, the event saw the release of their Ethiopian single origin coffee, with proceeds from sales also going to support Preventing Podo.
Find out more about podo, its prevention and treatment, and the outstanding work of Professor Gail Davey in this short film: