LOS ANGELES, California — Matinde, a young boy in Northern Tanzania, was born with the same disability as his father, Samson: bilateral clubfoot. Samson’s untreated clubfoot affected his life in several ways, including setting his whole family at an economic disadvantage as he, as the head of the family, had limited employment opportunities. Samson did not want Matinde to face the same struggles. Fortunately, Samson came to know about the work of MiracleFeet, which provided a “highly effective, non-invasive solution” for Matinde’s clubfoot, the MiracleFeet website says. Today, Matinde can grow up with the same economic opportunities as his non-disabled peers, thanks to the work of MiracleFeet in providing clubfoot treatment.
What is Clubfoot?
According to the National Health Service, clubfoot is a treatable birth impairment where the Achilles tendon, the central tendon at the back of the ankle, is too short in either one or both feet. As a result, the “feet point down and inwards,” making it difficult for the affected person to walk. However, the good news is that nearly every child receiving proper clubfoot treatment can live a normal life after completing treatment.
Globally, more than 200,000 children are born every year with clubfoot, commonly in lower-income nations, according to MiracleFeet’s website. Of these children, less than 15% have access to the necessary treatment. To put this into perspective, as of today, about 9.75 million people have suffered a clubfoot defect at birth, yet 8 million of these people “never received any treatment.”
An Introduction to MiracleFeet’s Work
MiracleFeet came about in 2010 through the vision of “parents of children born with clubfoot” who had personally witnessed the impacts of clubfoot. Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld, the CEO and co-founder of MiracleFeet, explains that the suffering and poverty resulting from clubfoot stood as the driving factors in creating the organization.
“It wasn’t created because there were a bunch of people who really care about feet, right? We only care about feet because… Not having healthy feet means you can’t go to school, and if you can’t go to school, you can’t get a job. And then, that [creates]a cycle [where]you spiral down into poverty and lack of opportunities,” Colloredo-Mansfeld told The Borgen Project in an interview.
Before MiracleFeet, many people with clubfoot in developing countries did not receive treatment because the standard practice of treatment was a complex, often unsafe, surgery that caused “considerable health issues later in life,” the MiracleFeet website says. MiracleFeet managed to provide a low-cost, non-surgical treatment method, known as the Ponseti method, to low-income countries.
The Ponseti method consists of “a series of casts” followed by a brace to “prevent relapse.” This method “became the orthopedic standard for treating clubfoot around 2005” and “provides full mobility in 95% of cases,” MiracleFeet says. Due to its simplicity, doctors can perform the method at a relatively small cost of less than $500 — a small price to pay to ensure a child lives a “fully productive, active and healthy” life. Without treatment, clubfoot can lead to far-reaching impacts such as “illiteracy, abuse, malnutrition and poverty.”
Clubfoot and Poverty
Talk Poverty says that a disability, such as clubfoot, is “both a cause and consequence of poverty.” It is a cause in the way that suffering from clubfoot leads to reduced employment opportunities, lower levels of education, additional expenses and other economic hardships. In many countries where clubfoot is most prevalent, due to the lack of treatment, without adequate transportation, school children must walk to school, and if they are unable to do so, they are unable to attend school as a whole.
Additionally, due to the stigma surrounding disabilities in many lower-income nations, individuals with visible impairments and their families are often “excluded from society.” According to Colloredo-Mansfeld, this places the whole family at risk; if the mother of a household is at risk of exclusion and poverty, it lowers the income level of the entire family.
Disability is a consequence of poverty because poverty often limits one’s access to health care, leading to more people living with treatable disabilities, such as clubfoot. Colloredo-Mansfeld states that the number of clubfoot cases in lower-income regions is often higher not because more children are born with clubfoot but because more remain untreated. Truly, as Colloredo-Mansfeld says, “poverty manifests itself at every level of this problem.”
A Global Issue
According to the World Bank, about 15% of the global population suffers a disability of some sort, but “disability prevalence is higher for developing countries.” This percentage equates to 1 billion people and makes people with disabilities one of the most disadvantaged and largest minority groups.
Additionally, according to Colloredo-Mansfeld, due to the intersection between poverty and disability, children with disabilities are often given less value than their able-bodied counterparts. Thus, they are more vulnerable to abuse, neglect and malnutrition.
The cost of clubfoot severely impacts individuals and their families; however, governments should view clubfoot “as a public health issue” that leaders must address for the interest of the whole nation. During the interview, Colloredo-Mansfeld explained that “by treating one child with clubfoot, you generate $120,000 of additional revenue in that country,” which, when taxed, can have an enormous “multiplier effect” of prosperity for the country.
MiracleFeet’s Impact on Poverty
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021, MiracleFeet “reached more patients than ever,” according to its Impact Report. Across 12 countries, “growth in treatment coverage” went from 30% to 500% in 2021. During the same time, 9,437 new patients enrolled in treatment and more than 50 new clinics opened across the globe. On top of the “targeted, tangible way of reducing poverty” the Ponseti method provides, MiracleFeet could reach these figures by providing resources, such as information regarding access to clinics, and through advocacy.
Thanks to MiracleFeet and its growing success, a report published in December 2021 notes that in Nigeria and Liberia, 98% of parents whose children received clubfoot treatment through MiracleFeet reported that MiracleFeet’s work “overwhelmingly has a positive impact on children’s quality of life, with improvements to children’s ability to move, stand, play and forge positive relationships.”
– Lena Maassen