For Brigid Songok, clubfoot is more than just a physical deformity.
For years, Ms Songok, just like others born with the condition, has also battled stigma and many other challenges that come with clubfoot.
“When I was in high school, people would often stare at me. It was very discouraging,” she says.
She also cites a former boss as lacking empathy, often reprimanding her for getting late to work and being insensitive of the struggles she encountered while commuting due to her condition.
Nevertheless, Songok has been able to live a better life after she was adopted by a relative, since her mother faced difficulties in taking care of her due to the complexities of clubfoot.
But the challenges people with clubfoot encounter are numerous. For instance, during the cold season, Songok says many endure intolerable pain in the feet, while during hot seasons their feet swell.
Clubfoot is a disorder that is often seen at birth, as one or both of a baby’s feet face downwards or inwards, usually because the tendons that link the heel to the leg muscles are too short.
Due to this abnormality in the shape of the feet, for people with clubfoot, even getting comfortable shoes can be a luxury.
Individuals with clubfoot can only wear surgical boots, which, according to Songok, cost an average Sh9,500 a pair. Finding the right place to buy the boots is also another issue.
“We can’t buy ready-made shoes. The shoemakers have to mould your feet using a cast so they get the correct shape. It also takes a while for the shoes to get ready,” she adds.
If the boots are not made perfectly, they can end up causing a great deal of discomfort and pain.
Yesterday, as the world marked World Clubfoot Day and the start of the World Clubfoot Week, Songok and Anne Oyoo, the founders of the Clubfoot Society Kenya, organised the first gathering of nearly 50 people living with clubfoot in Kenya, an event that served to provide tips on better ways of managing the condition as well as free physiotherapy and counseling.
“Many people living with disability are undergoing stress, especially adults, because of the stigma and neglect. That is why there is a need for counselling,” Songok explained.
According to Cure International Hospital, a non-profit organisation that operates several charitable programmes worldwide, approximately 1,650 babies are born with clubfoot in Kenya each year.
According to Dion Njogu, a physical therapist at Chiropractic and Physiotherapy Health Centre in Nairobi, more cases of clubfoot are now being corrected, particularly because the condition can be seen at birth or even before.
“With a good pediatrician, it can be detected fast. It is not a life-threatening condition, but it should be corrected from one day to three weeks after birth,” Dr Njogu explains.
In a few cases where the condition is severe, Dr Njogu explains the baby may have to undergo a minor surgery at three years.
If not treated by this age, Njogu says the child’s clubfoot remains, effectively crippling him or her.
However, Njogu says this is a rarity, as more healthcare specialists are now able to detect and correct it at birth.
The main challenges in treating and managing clubfoot in Kenya, according to Cure International, are poverty, stigma and minimal awareness.
However, Njogu says the pain of clubfoot can be managed through inexpensive ways such as using painkillers, through the use of ice or heat, or through exercising, which is the most recommended method as it not only eases pain but also promotes overall well-being.
“Individuals with the condition need to get spinal column check-ups because their manner of walking disturbs the anatomy,” Njogu adds.