World Clubfoot Day takes place on June 3 and was created to raise awareness about clubfoot.
Around 150,000 to 200,000 children are affected each year worldwide, including around 2,000 in South Africa. The day is held annually and celebrates the date of birth of Dr Ignaçio Ponseti who in the mid-20th century developed a non-surgical method to treat clubfoot.
Known as the Ponseti method, it uses a series of casts, gentle handling, and a clubfoot splint. This revolutionary method made it possible, for the first time, to correct clubfoot without surgery and at a lower cost.
In South Africa, Steps Charity is the only non-profit organization focused on the treatment of clubfoot and, since its inception in 2005, more than 15,000 children have had access to the Ponseti method of treatment. Karen Moss, founder of the charity, said: “We were created in response to the enormous need for clubfoot treatment support in southern Africa.
“Less than eight percent of patients have access to health insurance or the means to pay for treatment. Since clubfoot is a treatable disease, we had to do something to help children avoid a lifetime of disability. The Ponseti method was successful with my own child, so I introduced it to southern Africa to try to help all parents whose children were born with the same disease.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns have had an impact on children’s access to healthcare. However, despite these challenges, there were over 11,000 patient consultations and 678 new patients enrolled in partner clinics. A total of 1,042 clubfoot orthotics were distributed by Steps Charity to clinics and providers in 2020 and there are currently 3,079 patients in treatment.
Ivy Muffler, Coordinator of the Steps Clubfoot Clinic at Charlotte Maxeke University Hospital in Johannesburg and Steve Biko University Hospital, said: “Working as Steps Clinic Coordinator during the Covid-19 pandemic a certainly been interesting. When the lockdown was first announced, we were all filled with confusion and fear.
“My phone rang nonstop with patients asking for advice on what to do. Some wanted to hurry home, others were too afraid to leave home. But they all knew they didn’t want to stop treatment if it was still available, and they worried about what an interruption in treatment would mean for their child’s progress.
She concluded: “After the initial shock passed, things got better pretty quickly and most of the patients who were still in the active cast returned to the clinic for treatment. Parents were cooperative and understanding and adhered to new, stricter safety protocols. They understood that these were exceptional moments and that we would all have to work together as a team to cross safely. “