Geophagy - the cultural practices of eating soil - common in many sub-Saharan countries?

  • hadley
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Re: Geophagy - the cultural practices of eating soil - common in many sub-Saharan countries? - and helminthic therapy

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Hi Joe,

I'm new to this forum, so please excuse any breaches of etiquette. I haven't read the whole thread, so forgive me if you've heard all this before.

The area of my practice is largely subtropical with hot and humid summers and warm dry winters. I suspect that the summer months, December, January and February, are the ones most enjoyed by helminths. There are two possible depths at which the ova could be acquired. Where "night soil" (human faeces) is used as a fertilizer it may be dug into the field or garden. Viable ova may then be deposited a spade's depth into the soil. More commonly surface contamination results in easier access! We looked at ova counts as an index of the severity of infestation and found some of our children were excreting 30,000 ova per gram of stool. If the worms all matured and were laid end to end they would stretch over 4 kms. Multiply that by the mass of the stool and the scale of the problem becomes clear!! I don't know anything about the survival of buried ova but their environment is likely to be warm and damp which would surely aid their survival.
I'm not aware of any data relating to soil temperatures, but there are a lot of things of which I am not aware. They probably exist somewhere.

Children may eat soil accidentally by sucking dirty fingernails or it may be given as part of a traditional potion. Pregnant women apparently do it to address a real or perceived mineral deficiency.
Hakuna matata

Larry Hadley
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  • SudhirPillay
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  • Working for the WRC on the "Sanitation Research Fund for Africa" Project. Interested in on-site sanitation systems and faecal sludge management
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Re: Geophagy - the cultural practices of eating soil - common in many sub-Saharan countries?

The WRC has a Research Project that involves geophagia (Research Project K5/2379). The Project is being led by Barbara "Bobbie" Louton from Partners in Development. I have attached a Draft Literature Review from that Project. As the Project is still on-going, researchers may cite it as Partners in Development (in prep), Research Report K5/2379, Water Research Commission, Pretoria. There is interesting info pulled by the research team from the different visits.

You may contact Bobbie herself (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Jay Bhagwan (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

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  • joeturner
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Re: Geophagy - the cultural practices of eating soil - common in many sub-Saharan countries?

Wow - from page 29:

A study conducted in rural KwaZulu Natal among school children (median age 11) found that 53% of girls and 37% of boys practiced geophagia; the practice decreased with age for boys but not for girls and was more common among children from families of higher socio-economic status

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