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What do space exploration and clubfoot have in common?

In July 2021, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his space exploration company Blue Origin made history. He and three others made an 11-minute trip in a reusable rocket made by the company.

Nearly 7,600 people from 159 countries registered to bid to become one of the passengers on the New Shepherd. The winning bid was from a mystery investor pledging $28 million to reserve one seat. Due to a scheduling conflict, the winning bidder could not go and the seat went to an 18-year-old runner up for an undisclosed amount.

What does any of this have to do with clubfoot, a treatable birth defect that twists the feet making walking, running and playing difficult or impossible?

Well, today experts estimate there are several million people around the world with untreated clubfoot, who are still unable to walk on earth without pain and disability. The price of that one ticket could have paid the full cost of clubfoot treatment for more than 56,000 children. Each year more than 170,000 kids are born with clubfoot, a birth defect that medical experts can easily correct with a few inexpensive casts and then can maintain by wearing foot braces until about the age of five.

I’m not knocking these investors. They certainly have a right to spend their money as they want. The money is not going to further grow Mr. Bezos’s net worth of $200 billion either. It is being donated to Club for the Future, Blue Origin’s foundation to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM. Arguably, a worthy cause.

I simply mention the recent events to illustrate a point. Clubfoot is a birth defect that should never go untreated. Every child born with clubfoot should have access to care but sadly, tragically, that is not the case for tens of thousands of kids each year. Relatively speaking, we can eradicate disability from clubfoot for the cost of several 11-minute trips into space. 

When clubfoot goes untreated as it does in many low-income countries, a child is destined to a life of shame, poverty, isolation and few opportunities. Nearly 90 percent of these births take place in countries ill-equipped to deal with this treatable condition.

Space may be considered the final frontier, but for kids with clubfoot, their frontier is as simple as taking a step on this earth without pain or shame. It’s running and playing with other kids and simply being able to go to school and access daily necessities with straight feet and without the stares from others poking fun.

It is estimated that when we successfully treat a child with clubfoot in low-income countries, he or she has a lifetime earning potential of an additional $120,000. This is mere pocket change to those who can drop millions of dollars for a short ride on a rocket, but for these kids and their families, it is life-changing.

If we invested that kind of money into ensuring every child had access to quality clubfoot care, based on these estimates, those 150,000 kids born each year in low- and middle-income countries would unleash more than $18 billion in regained earning potential over their lifetime.

What could be possible in a world where every year there were an additional 150,000 able-bodied and empowered individuals who were given a chance to take one giant step on earth? We not only would alter the lives of these children but their families and communities as well. Wouldn’t it be great to make their memory of clubfoot as distant as a trip into space?

Scott Reichenbach,
President and Co-Founder
Hope Walks, is an international non-profit that supports clubfoot treatment for kids in Latin America and Africa