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Research Article

A Qualitative Study Exploring Barriers Related to Use of Footwear in Rural Highland Ethiopia: Implications for Neglected Tropical Disease Control



Abstract

Background The role of footwear in protection against a range of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) is gaining increasing attention. Better understanding of the behaviors that influence use of footwear will lead to improved ability to measure shoe use and will be important for those implementing footwear programs. Methodology/Principal Findings Using the PRECEDE-PROCEED model we assessed social, behavioral, environmental, educational and ecological needs influencing whether and when children wear shoes in a rural highland Ethiopian community endemic for podoconiosis. Information was gathered from 242 respondents using focus groups, semi-structured interviews and extended case studies. Shoe-wearing norms were said to be changing, with going barefoot increasingly seen as ‘shameful’. Shoes were thought to confer dignity as well as protection against injury and cold. However, many practical and social barriers prevented the desire to wear shoes from being translated into practice. Limited financial resources meant that people were neither able to purchase more than one pair of shoes to ensure their longevity nor afford shoes of the preferred quality. As a result of this limited access, shoes were typically preserved for special occasions and might not be provided for children until they reached a certain age. While some barriers (for example fit of shoe and fear of labeling through use of a certain type of shoe) may be applicable only to certain diseases, underlying structural level barriers related to poverty (for example price, quality, unsuitability for daily activities and low risk perception) are likely to be relevant to a range of NTDs. Conclusions/Significance Using well established conceptual models of health behavior adoption, we identified several barriers to shoe wearing that are amenable to intervention and which we anticipate will be of benefit to those considering NTD prevention through shoe distribution. Author Summary Consistently wearing shoes may help in preventing onset or progression of a wide range of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). This study assessed the factors that influenced shoe wearing behaviors among people living in a rural community in highland Ethiopia. In this community, a substantial proportion of people are at risk for podoconiosis, a debilitating lower leg condition that can be prevented by wearing shoes. We conducted semi-structured individual interviews, focus group discussions and extended case studies among 242 adults and systematically analyzed the information. We found that shoe wearing is intermittent, and that different factors such as cost and ability to use the shoes for certain activities (such as farming) influenced consistent shoe wearing for most people. Some factors (such as shoe size, fear of stigma) were more relevant for podoconiosis patients. Social norms were found to be increasingly supportive of shoe wearing, and children exhibited greater desire to wear shoes than adults. These findings have relevance for preventing development and progression of a variety of NTDs in a range of settings.


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