Podo is grotesque. In severe cases, the victim’s feet appear to be turning into cauliflower””horrible, rotting cauliflower””or something that grows under a rock in 20 feet of water. These are nightmare feet, seeming to bubble and melt, producing unbearable odors.
An estimated one million Ethiopians suffer from podo, as do perhaps three million more, mostly Africans. In affected areas””typically mountains with red volcanic soil””1 out of every 20 people have it. A village of 2,000 will have 100 victims, permanently disabled. In certain areas of Ethiopia, the podo infection rate surpasses that of HIV/AIDS.
Though prevalent and severe, the disease was not identified until 35 years ago. Doctors had been diagnosing the symptoms as infectious elephantiasis until a Christian doctor named Ewart Price realized that the diagnosis didn’t fit.