Podoconiosis in east and west Gojam zones, northern Ethiopia

Type Journal Article - PLoS neglected tropical diseases
Title Podoconiosis in east and west Gojam zones, northern Ethiopia
Volume 6
Issue 7
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2012
URL http://journals.plos.org/plosntds/article?id=10.1371/journal.pntd.0001744

Podoconiosis is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that is prevalent in red clay soil-covered highlands of tropical Africa, Central and South America, and northern India. It is estimated that up to one million cases exist in Ethiopia. This study aimed to estimate the prevalence of podoconiosis in East and West Gojam Zones of Amhara Region in northern Ethiopia.

Methodology/Principal Findings

A cross-sectional household survey was conducted in Debre Eliyas and Dembecha woredas (districts) in East and West Gojam Zones, respectively. The survey covered all 17,553 households in 20 kebeles (administrative subunits) randomly selected from the two woredas. A detailed structured interview was conducted on 1,704 cases of podoconiosis identified in the survey.


The prevalence of podoconiosis in the population aged 15 years and above was found to be 3.3% (95% CI, 3.2% to 3.6%). 87% of cases were in the economically active age group (15–64 years). On average, patients sought treatment five years after the start of the leg swelling. Most subjects had second (42.7%) or third (36.1%) clinical stage disease, 97.9% had mossy lesions, and 53% had open wounds. On average, patients had five episodes of acute adenolymphangitis (ALA) per year and spent a total of 90 days per year with ALA. The median age of first use of shoes and socks were 22 and 23 years, respectively. More men than women owned more than one pair of shoes (61.1% vs. 50.5%; χ2 = 11.6 p = 0.001). At the time of interview, 23.6% of the respondents were barefoot, of whom about two-thirds were women.


This study showed high prevalence of podoconiosis and associated morbidities such as ALA, mossy lesions and open wounds in northern Ethiopia. Predominance of cases at early clinical stage of podoconiosis indicates the potential for reversing the swelling and calls for disease prevention interventions.

Author Summary

Podoconiosis is non-infectious elephantiasis that affects barefoot people that have prolonged exposure to red clay soil. It is common in tropical Africa, central America and northern India. Podoconiosis presents as bilateral below knee swelling. Podoconiosis can be both prevented and controlled by consistently washing feet, wearing shoes, and using antiseptics and emollients. This survey is the biggest conducted to date in Ethiopia: 17,553 households in East and West Gojam Zones of northern Ethiopia were included, and 1,704 patients were identified. We interviewed patients in detail about manifestations of acute attacks (painful inflammation of the foot and leg with swollen lymph nodes and fever), clinical disease stage, treatment seeking, foot washing and shoe wearing practices. We found the prevalence of podoconiosis to be 3.3%. Most patients were farmers, uneducated and within the economically active age group. There was no gender difference in occurrence of podoconiosis and in foot washing practices. The onset of leg swelling and the age of first shoe wearing were similar. We also found delayed treatment seeking and many days confined to bed during acute inflammatory episodes. We conclude that podoconiosis imposes a huge burden in northern Ethiopia.

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