Freedom from Konzo

30 September 2020

The word konzo means 'tied bound legs'. It is the name given to a neurological disease that causes irreversible paralysis of the legs, often in women and young children.

The cassava plant is a staple food crop in tropical Africa. Consumption of high levels of a cyanide compound in the plant, along with malnutrition, can cause konzo. Malnourished people in villages in that region face a choice - eat cassava and lose your ability to walk; don't, and you risk death by starvation. But there is hope.

The Australian National University (ANU) has developed a simple and inexpensive method that removes the poisonous cyanide compound from cassava flour. By educating villagers to use this method when preparing cassava, their exposure to cyanide is reduced dramatically.

Thanks to this 'wetting method' researched by Dr Howard Bradbury, and through the generous support of donors, new cases of konzo have been effectively eliminated in 13 villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

A record number of donors helped raised over $85,000 through the 2016 Giving Day appeal to help prevent konzo. All funds raised directly supported educational programs run in partnership with the National Institute of Nutrition in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to teach villagers Dr Bradbury's affordable 'wetting method'.

Now, the University wishes to expand our education program in DRC - so that konzo can be eradicated more broadly in the Kwango Province. In partnership with The International Conservation and Education Fund (INCEF), ANU is developing a community education program -- to develop locally produced, culturally appropriate videos in local languages that explain the cassava preparation process and the reasons behind it.

ANU and INCEF will launch this program to reach at least 124 villages across the Kwango Province to educate local villages at risk of konzo. We hope to prevent close to 6,000 cases of this debilitating disease.

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