Debre Markos, Ethiopia (IOCC) The fresh scent of soap welcomes Guday as she arrives at the outdoor clinic in Debre Markos, Ethiopia. She has traveled almost all day to reach the clinic IOCC opened here last year to treat podoconiosis, a painful disease caused by walking and working barefoot in irritating volcanic soil. She winces as she unwinds bandages from her swollen and blistered feet but fortunately she no longer walks barefoot. She has been fitted by onsite shoemakers with new shoes provided through your support. After ten months of visiting the clinic and diligently washing her feet daily at home, Guday has seen the swelling in her legs visibly diminish and definition return.
Since IOCC's inception of a 2010 pilot project to treat this disease, almost 250 people like Guday have received treatment and wellness training on how to prevent the disease from recurring. Each week, individuals spend up to an hour at the clinic washing, soaking, elevating, exercising, then wrapping their affected feet in bandages. Trained volunteers guide them through the process, providing fresh water during their therapy and replenishing their supplies as shoemakers at the clinic craft footwear to fit their misshapen feet.
The patients take their supplies of a brightly colored basin, a bar of soap, antiseptic, and bandages home with them, continuing the treatment they learn at the clinic throughout the week. Before patients leave the premises, a nurse measures the progress of their healing and tracks it.
Before this opportunity, very little help was available for a disease which affects nearly one million Ethiopians and puts another ten million at risk. Those afflicted with podoconiosis are often shunned by society because of its disfiguring appearance, banned from working, marriage or even daily interaction with others.
Through the IOCC project, Ethiopians are learning that this disease is not only treatable but preventable with the proper foot care and footwear. The response from the disease sufferers and their families has been overwhelming. With funding from TOMS Shoes and private donors, IOCC expanded the podoconiosis project this year to a new site in Debre Eliyas which is expected to double the amount of patients treated. Both project sites are expected to treat up to 1,200 patients. The plans include not only further community supported clinics and distribution of supplies, but income generating activities, as well as support groups to decrease the stigmatization associated with the disease.
As Guday packs up her supplies for the long journey home, she speaks with a newfound confidence that comes from having control over her health and hopes that the IOCC project will increase public understanding about podoconiosis. "When you have podo you live in the shadows because no one really knows what it is," states Guday. "Teaching us how to control it takes away the fear and gives me a chance to live like everyone else."