by Karen Helen Szatkowski
Podoconiosis is the common medical name of Mossy Foot which is found in the highland areas of Eastern Africa, India and Latin America. It is debilitating to the individual and the community and sadly is one of the few diseases that could potentially be eliminated in one generation. It is caused by barefoot contact with the soil. Everyone who is in the soil without foot protection has the volcanic silica in their lymphatic systems. Only about one in thirteen develop an intolerance to it and contract podoconiosis which amounts to almost a million people in Ethiopia. Those living in Wolaita in Southern Ethiopia live largely by subsistence farming, barefoot, with little ability to buy shoes and socks and almost no information on hygiene.
This is where our hero, Dr. Nathan Barlow, a Christian Medical Missionary, set up the Mossy Foot Project in 1997 to treat the disease and the attendant miseries of the sufferers. Stigmatization of people with the disease is seriously detrimental to many aspects of their community life; being excluded from school, meetings, churches and barred from marriage with unaffected individuals. The disease, over time, forms a moss-like skin and keloids( bumpy growths) and later as it ascends the skin of the feet and legs grows either soft and fluid or hard and fibrotic. The appearance is grotesque and the feet have a foul odor, causing them to be treated like lepers.
The Mossy Foot Project has had many successes and has moved beyond the disease itself into shoe manufacturing for the patients; education on repeated cleansing of the feet and lower extremities; assuring the community that the disease is not communicable; vocational training of the cured; providing education concerning podoconiosis at government health clinics, and, lastly, but most importantly, sending a message of hope. From a small clinic at the beginning the Project, Mossy Foot today has sixteen treatment clinics and has helped more than 90,000 patients over the years but much work remains.
Upon Dr. Barlow’s death in 2004, the donors thought that because the doctor died the Mossy Foot Project was finished. Jim Daly, the husband of Dr. Barlow’s youngest daughter Sharon, wrote to the donors informing them that the project would continue. Jim served as President until a few years ago when Sharon became President. The Dalys worked in the States raising awareness and funding for the work. They visited the Project several times a year, experiencing the victories and challenges such an endeavor is subject to. Sadly, Jim passed away in 2016.
Ventura, we are proud to say, is the headquarters of the foundation. Sharon Daly continues her work along with Dr. Barlow’s grandson, Kevin, who is vice president. The Daly family has lived in Ventura since 1984 and other than travel for vacation and to Africa for work, Sharon and her son Kevin enjoy most days here safe and healthy, being personally acquainted with so many other people in the world that are not. If you would like to get more information about the Mossy Foot Project, please check the web site www.mossyfoot.com.