Rolling out miracles through MiracleFeet around the world
30 March 2021
When Miguel was born in a remote village in Guatemala, his parents immediately noticed his tiny, twisted feet and were confused and concerned about their child’s future. Over the years, Miguel learned to walk—although with difficulty and only while wearing certain shoes – and eventually attended school, but he was teased by his classmates because of his feet.
Miguel was born with clubfoot, a common birth defect that causes one or both feet to turn inward and upward and affects 1 in 800 newborns. An effective, nonsurgical treatment, known as the Ponseti method, is readily accessible in countries with advanced health systems, but fewer than 15 per cent of children born with clubfoot in low- and middle-income countries can access the solution. Like Miguel, many children born with this debilitating condition endure pain, impaired mobility, and discrimination.
MiracleFeet partners with local organisations working in disability or rehabilitation in 29 low- and middle-income countries to develop national clubfoot treatment systems embedded within the existing public health infrastructure. To date, MiracleFeet has treated clubfoot for over 53,000 children around the world – including Miguel, who recently finished treatment at a MiracleFeet-supported clinic in Guatemala. His feet are now fully corrected, and he is able to walk and ride his bike with ease. As a thriving student, Miguel aspires to become a doctor. “I want to help children who need help. Children who have feet like I had.”
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the stark inequities that children like Miguel face, exacerbated major barriers to essential healthcare, and revealed serious gaps in how health systems work for the world’s most vulnerable populations. Prior to the pandemic, MiracleFeet was on track to achieve an impressive 25 per cent increase in new patient enrolments compared to the previous year. However, by June 2020, 75 per cent of MiracleFeet-supported clinics worldwide had temporarily closed due to government regulations, interrupting clubfoot treatment for over 12,000 children and postponing it for thousands more.
Navigating Covid-19 on top of existing local challenges made providing clubfoot care increasingly difficult. But together with its partners, MiracleFeet went to extraordinary lengths to find new ways of delivering treatment services more efficiently and creatively. MiracleFeet tailored Covid-19 response strategies in each country where it works, delivering foot abduction braces – an essential assistive technology device for clubfoot treatment – to families. It did this by: using motorcycle taxis as couriers in Uganda; seeing patients outdoors in India; deploying mobile teams of physiotherapists in Guatemala; and conducting telehealth consultations and home visits globally.
MiracleFeet is also working closely with partners to devise COVID protocols so that treatment can safely continue as clinics reopen. MiracleFeet is providing PPE for providers and patients, spacing out appointments to allow for social distancing, and thoroughly disinfecting equipment and furniture between every appointment, among other measures. As of January 2021, clinics were operating at over 90 per cent of pre-Covid-19 capacity. This return to nearly normal programme operations was supported heavily by CAST – MiracleFeet’s all-in-one patient, clinic, and programme management tool – which enables providers to: follow up with patients whose treatment was interrupted; schedule appointments; and track treatment quality.
MiracleFeet is on a mission to ensure that no child has to endure the pain and stigma of this preventable disability the way Miguel did for so many years. As MiracleFeet continues to navigate the challenges presented by the pandemic, it remains dedicated to its goal of one day eliminating clubfoot disability globally.
In 2017, Oak Foundation pledged USD 5 million to support MiracleFeet’s ambitious global strategy to scale access to clubfoot treatment globally. This grant falls under our Special Interest Progamme, which you can read more about here. Please read Miguel’s full story here, and visit MiracleFeet’s website, www.miraclefeet.org, for more information.