IRINNews.org recently reported that, worldwide, 150,000 babies are born with clubfoot, which is when the feet are turned inward at birth. Fortunately, there is a cost-effective, non-surgical cure, the Ponseti Method.
Ignacio Ponseti of the University of Iowa developed the non-surgical intervention in 1963, but only decades later did his research catch on in the United States, Canada and the UK.
Named after its inventor, the Ponseti Method means that clubfoot can be fixed with corrective foot manipulation and castings, followed by corrective shoe braces.
“It [clubfoot] stops children from following life’s normal trajectory. In developing nations, children with neglected clubfoot face great practical difficulties and are often stigmatized. As a result, many do not attend school and cannot find work or a marriage partner,” said Canada-based health expert Shafique Pirani.
Clubfoot is the most common and serious birth defect of the muscular skeletal system, said Pirani. “It has been a scourge on civilization for thousands of years, but until the Ponseti technique began to be practiced in the 1990s, the only cure was expensive, corrective surgery.”
Norgrove Penny, a senior adviser for physical impairment at the German NGO CBM International, said the treatment’s success rate exceeded 90 percent in the developing countries the organization had studied, “This is a very effective method for preventing disability and major surgery in babies.”
Clubfoot prevalence is highest in the Polynesian Islands, where it occurs in seven out of 1,000 births, and is lowest among more homogenous Asian populations , 0.57 out of 1,000 births, according to a study by Tel Aviv University.
“The reasons for the higher prevalence are uncertain, it could be a genetic influence,” said Pirani. “But I remain confident that we can become a clubfoot-free world in the next few decades.”
In Bangladesh, the Walk for Life Bangladesh Sustainable Foot Program, established by Glencoe Foundation, has treated more than 2,400 infants since it began in 2009. It aims to make the Ponseti Method available to every club-footed infant in Bangladesh by the next decade.
Colin McFarlane, founder of the Glencoe Foundation, told IRIN an estimated 5,000 babies are born with clubfoot each year in Bangladesh.
The lack of medical supplies such as plaster and braces remains an obstacle, said UK-based orthopedic surgeon Steve Mannion, who has set up pilot clubfoot treatment programs in Malawi, Sudan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea.
Another is poor access to the treatment in rural areas. Mannion set up Malawi’s first national clubfoot treatment program in 2002. “The method was also very applicable to Africa, where orthopedic surgeons are scarce, there were only three for the Malawian population of 12 million in 2000, and 40 for the whole East African population of 200 million. I saw the potential to eradicate the profound disability of neglected clubfoot deformity,” says Mannion.
Developing countries are not the only the places where babies are born with clubfoot. This is a deformity that knows no borders. In the United States, babies are born with clubfoot every year. Fortunately, the Ponseti Method is used in the U.S. as well.
If your baby has clubfoot, you should seek a qualified clubfoot doctor who is trained in the Ponseti Method of clubfoot correction.
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