Although the mission of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is to create programs that “improve the health of the Nation,” the Obama Administration apparently is taking liberties with which nation the NIH should be helping. Indeed, a project aimed at influencing parental decision making—attempted via songs, stories, and posters encouraging “consistent shoe wearing” in Ethiopia—reveals the notion of “the Nation” is open to interpretation.

NIH in this case will award a sole-source contract to an Addis Ababa-based nonprofit to research footwear usage of children living in the Wolaita Zone of Ethiopia.

According to contracting documents that Patriot Update discovered via routine database research, the aim of this National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute campaign is the reduction of the prevalence of “mossy foot disease,” technically known as podoconiosis.

The World Health Organization says the disease apparently results from a “genetically determined abnormal inflammatory reaction” to irritants in red clay soils near volcanic deposits. This condition often leads elephantiasis, an extreme swelling of the lower extremities.

NIH said in an initial Sources Sought notice that it needed contractors to research footwear patterns as well as engage in an information campaign in response to:

  • Children failing to wear shoes while working in the fields;
  • Children failing to wear shoes around the house and while playing;
  • Children preserving shoes by wearing them irregularly;
  • Parents forgoing shoe purchase or attainment;
  • Parents discouraging or failing to encourage shoe wearing by their children, and:
  • Parents failing to help children maintain proper foot hygiene.

NIH said in the document that possible communications strategies include:

  • Promotion of a song about foot protection and shoes;
  • Delivery of radio-based messaging in the form of PSAs, songs, and dramatic stories;
  • Dissemination of posters in locations where behaviors are most important and salient farming areas, playing areas, water fetching areas, etc.),  and:
  • Education of community leaders through one-on-one efforts of the Mossy Foot Prevention & Treatment Association or other “experts.”

The awarding of this sole-source is justified—as NIH explained it—based on the fact that NIH “is the nation’s leading medical research agency and the primary Federal agency conducting and supporting medical discoveries that improve people’s health and save lives.”

NIH is a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which according to the HHS mission statement “is the United States government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.”

International Orthodox Christian Charities, or IOCC, will carry out the project through September 2013.

Sources Sought Notice:


Notice of Intent to Award a Sole-Source Contract:
WHO Podoconiosis page: