For a condition that is so visually distinct, clubfoot, as a public health issue, is often invisible.
But only three months after becoming an independent organization, Hope Walks — headquartered in Dillsburg and run by a Messiah College graduate — is making an impact.
“The earlier you get these kids, the better off they are,” said Hope Walks President Scott Reichenbach, “but in a lot of low- or middle-income countries, there’s a still a lot of stigma and misinformation.”
Clubfoot is a relatively common malformation present at birth in which the feet of the child are twisted inward and down relative to the normal positioning of the ankle joint. The best estimate of the condition’s occurrence is one in 806 births, Reichenbach said — similar to cleft lip, which occurs roughly one in 700.
Clubfoot is also similar to cleft lip in that it is easily corrected, and thus often out of the public eye, in more developed countries. But this is not the case in the developing world, where most children are born.
A forthcoming study from the Global Clubfoot Initiative confirms that only about one in five children born with clubfoot in 2017 had access to treatment, Reichenbach said. The best recent estimate put the number of children born with clubfoot at 174,000 per year, 90 percent of them in the developing world, Reichenbach said.
The condition is easily fixed in children who are still growing, but is much more difficult if uncorrected into adulthood. This is partly why CURE International, of which Hope Walks had been a part since 2006, split off from the organization into an independent nonprofit in June of this year.
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CURE International will still correct adult clubfoot, which typically must be done through surgery, at its hospitals, while Hope Walks will concentrate on childhood treatment by partnering with overseas medical institutions.
The treatment for children is relatively easy. A series of casts are put on the affected foot and lower leg for four to eight weeks, depending on severity, to get the foot growing in the right direction. For four to five years after that, the child wears a leg brace when sleeping to ensure proper alignment continues.
“The kids usually call them their ‘nighttime shoes’ or ‘naptime shoes,’” Reichenbach said. “If we get this kids early, it just becomes part of their routine.”
Hope Walks’ office in Dillsburg has four full-time paid staff and one volunteer and an additional paid staff member who lives in Zambia, Reichenbach said.
The organization partners with 35 doctors to treat clubfoot at 130 hospitals in Latin America and Africa, Reichenbach said. Those locations are typically funded by government or faith-based organizations, but Hope Walks pays for treatment supplies and for outreach to inform the population about clubfoot and the availability of treatment.
The leg braces used in treatment are manufactured by Hope Walks. Production centers are in Zambia, Ethiopia, Niger, and Rwanda, and employ local people with disabilities to assemble the braces, Reichenbach said.
The organization expects to treat 6,500 children this year in 16 countries, on a total budget of around $2.5 million, Reichenbach said.
Funding comes from individual donors and family charitable foundations. CURE International previously received federal USAID grants for the program, and Reichenbach said Hope Walks plans to apply for the same funding soon.
Reichenbach studied at Messiah College, the Cumberland County institution known for training missionaries and humanitarian aid workers, to become a pediatric intensive care nurse. He said he went to Honduras as an aid worker after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and also previously worked for Samaritan’s Purse, the aid organization run by Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham.
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