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Over 1,000 born with clubbed feet annually

A baby born with club feet.

By Michael Wesonga

Kenya: Four-year-old James Muturi was born with club feet and has undergone reconstructive surgery. He is slowly picking up his life after struggling with his disability.

His mother Dorcas Wambui cannot hide her joy each moment Muturi takes a few steps without help although he does so with some notable challenges.

It is a remarkable improvement as before his knocked knees wouldn’t even let him stand up.

“I really thank God bringing us this far. My son’s condition could not allow me focus on other things because it demanded that I give him a lot of care and attention. I had to carry him to school and back,” she explains.

She says it was also emotionally taxing because of the stigma and negative energy from neighbours and friends.

“They claimed it was a curse but I was not shaken. I simply took it as a normal sickness and that is what steered me through to seek treatment for him,” she confesses.

Muturi is just but one among many other Kenyans who are ostracised, neglected or living a sad childhood because they have clubbed feet, which is associated with a curse.

Severe disability

According to the Global Clubfoot Initiative, 1,653 children are born with the condition in Kenya annually, many of who will never receive any formal treatment and face the rest of their lives with a severe disability which causes pain, difficulty in walking and exclusion from society.

The Rift valley has an estimated 500 kids with this challenge. Care for the condition is only offered at few a centers countrywide forcing some parents to seek treatment in India.

However St Lukes Orthopedic Hospital in Eldoret, through a corporate social responsibility programme, is championing for subsidised treatment of clubbed feet through professional orthopedic surgery and physiotherapy.

Director Dr Kibor Lelei says there are various theories explaining the cause of the condition ranging from hereditary (genetic) factors to abdominal complications during pregnancy.

“Certainly, most of the cases are recorded in poor families but the cause is still unknown,” the doctor explains.

The consulting orthopedic surgeon at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret says they receive 10-20 cases every week but the number is expected to drastically shoot up with proper health education and public awareness on the condition.

“The low turnout is occasioned by increased late treatment and wrong information yet it is very easy and cheap to manipulate the foot back to its position if the situation is arrested as early as possible,” he advises.

He says the patient uses a Plaster of Paris immediately after surgery and is thereafter fitted with a special splint used for 24 hours before graduating to only being used at night.

Documented cases

“The patient must strictly follow the regime otherwise the condition will recur and even deteriorate later in life if treatment is abandoned.

Albert Burgei, a manager at St Luke’s, says they will offer a partial fee waiver to over 100 club feet patients from all over the country through funds from a society funded charity walk held in October 2013.

“Most of the documented cases emanating from children homes have shown that the children undergo shame and stigmatisation because it is associated with a curse,” he says.

“Additionally, the children do not go to school and if they do it is late and even so feel discriminated against by their peers,” Burgei continues.

The manager notes that it costs between Sh80,000 and Sh350,000 to treat clubbed feet in one child whereas the figure escalates when it comes to grow-ups ranging from Sh1-2 million.

“The older the person, the more complicated the surgery becomes. It does not only take longer to manage but also becomes difficult to walk upright,” he says.

Treatment

Dr Lelei says there are two to three clubbed feet cases per 1000 births with a uniform spread throughout the country but the condition is rare among caucasians.

“The condition should be treated as soon as possible, in fact a week after delivery on a weekly basis for six weeks progressing to monthly check-ups for up to four months up to three years,” he says.

He affirms that recovered patients can lead normal lives and even participate in sporting activities however raises concern over the travelling, consultation and other materials that may lead to delays causing complications in the treatment to an ordinary family.