Globally, more children than ever get life-changing treatment for this neglected disability
With four out of five children still not having access to life-altering clubfoot treatment, according to the latest data from the Global Clubfoot Initiative (GCI), it is clear that more needs to be done. However, the latest study also indicates things are moving in the right direction, said Hope Walks President Scott Reichenbach.
Clubfoot is a deformity that twists the foot downward and inward, making walking difficult or impossible. Left untreated, clubfoot leads to a lifetime of disability. While it cannot be prevented, it can be corrected using a relatively inexpensive treatment method of gentle foot manipulation, casting and braces in infants. This technique, known as the Ponseti method, was developed by Ignacio Ponseti, M.D. in the 1950s but was not widely used until the late 1990s.
It is estimated that more than 174,000 children are born with clubfoot each year. Of those, more than 157,000 (90%) live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). According to new data from GCI, nearly 32,000 children received treatment in 2017. GCI recently released this and other key findings in a biannual survey of clubfoot programs from 58 countries on their combined progress to eliminate this major physical disability through access to quality treatment. Hope Walks, which partners in 130 clinics in 16 countries to support quality treatment, is a governing member of GCI and contributed to this data.
“When reviewing the data, the results are quite positive,” Reichenbach said. “Since the last report in 2015, we saw a 30% increase in the number of children treated in 2017 in low- and middle-income countries. That is tremendous growth, but it also means that more than 100,000 children still go untreated every year.”
GCI’s survey results show marked improvement toward reaching all children who need treatment. “It’s really astonishing progress,” said Rosalind Owen of GCI. “We can say very conclusively that more children than ever before have access to treatment, and in more countries than ever before.”
Another positive sign is that more children are receiving treatment earlier. GCI’s latest 2017 data show 78% of children were enrolled in treatment before their first birthday, and 90% were enrolled before the age of two, pointing to improved early detection and referral initiatives. As children get older, surgery may be required as the less-invasive Ponseti method becomes less of an option.
Other key findings showed that:
- 70% of facility space and clinic staff required for treatment are supplied by government entities, a positive step toward creating sustainable clubfoot programs in many countries—but there is still a great need for Ministries of Health to invest in other treatment costs, including supplies, staff, training and community outreach.
- Few LMICs cover clubfoot under a national strategic health initiative, nor do their medical curricula teach the Ponseti method to providers. Both are imperative for further action and advocacy.
Ensuring all affected children receive treatment is very obtainable. RunFree2030, the global plan to end clubfoot disability created by GCI consortium organizations, estimates with a total investment of $160 million, more than 1.2 million children could be treated.
“There are few medical conditions that have the chance of being effectively eradicated with as little financial investment as clubfoot,” Reichenbach said. “Yet, imagine the life-altering impact it would have not only on the children with clubfoot, but also their families and communities. Treating clubfoot truly is a pebble that will create ripples in the pond for generations.”
For more information on the latest data, visit Global Clubfoot Initiative.