In the Congolese dialect Yaka, the word konzo means "tied legs"—describing the strained gait of people afflicted with the paralytic disease, konzo. This ailment is caused by the consumption of insufficiently processed cassava, which naturally contains cyanide.
More than 600 million people worldwide, mostly in equatorial regions, rely on cassava (yucca) as the main source of food. However, insufficiently processed cassava results in outbreaks of konzo in thousands of children and women of childbearing age.
Despite its severity, konzo remains a neglected disease. It is feared that global warming could lead to even more consumption of the highly drought-tolerant cassava, which will further proliferate outbreaks of konzo in economically depressed countries. Cases of konzo doubled between 1993 and 2011.
The factors that catapult these outbreaks are consistent: poverty associated with agricultural crises provoked by drought or war. Those affected belonged to the poorest segments of the most remote rural areas of Africa, perpetuating the silence and worsening the severity of the disease.