Tigo, CCBRT partnership restoring hope to thousands of clubfoot

12Nov 2019
The Guardian
Tigo, CCBRT partnership restoring hope to thousands of clubfoot

SINCE 2013, a partnership between Tigo Tanzania Limited and CCBRT has benefitted thousands of clubfoot and cleft lip patients who are largely vulnerable children coming from poor backgrounds of the community.

A clubfoot baby being fitted with special shoes as part of treatment at CCBRT Hospital in Dar es Salaam. Photo courtesy of Tigo.

Tigo’s Corporate Responsibility and Government Relations Officer, Halima Okash said last week that the mobile phone services company saw the need to support the good cause started by CCBRT because it serves the most disadvantaged in the community.

“This CCBRT initiative also tries to remove as many barriers as possible to allow people to seek treatment. Society will forever be indebted to CCBRT for taking the initiative to help people with disabilities and allow them an opportunity to be treated at subsidized costs,” Okash said.

The duo’s partnership has so far benefited more than 1,509 children have benefitted from life-changing surgeries at CCBRT over the past six years. “This is an achievement that makes all of us at Tigo feel very proud. By treating people living with disabilities, Tigo and CCBRT are making a lasting impact on the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities in Tanzania,” she added.

Among other things, the Tigo cum CCBRT Hospital’s partnership has helped treat patients with cleft lip, setting up an SMS reminder platform for clients and raising awareness about the hospital’s services to the general public.

The facility is an essential component of clubfoot care as attendance at weekly castings and follow-up appointments is crucial for successful treatment. The platform sends SMS reminder messages to the parents of all clubfoot patients, both four days, and one day before their scheduled appointments.

It has helped CCBRT significantly reduce the dropout rate. With an annual grant of 110m/- from Tigo, CCBRT can offer Ponseti treatment to more than 400 new patients and many more who attend follow-up casting sessions.

Among the smiling mothers of the partnership is Salma Hajj, a 29 years old who gave birth 10 months ago. Hajj who lives at Buza in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, had her happiness cut short after she discovered that her baby's feet were curved inwards with a deformity she did not understand.

Her baby’s feet abnormality was called clubfoot. Clubfoot is a congenital condition which means that it occurs before birth. Every year, around 100,000 babies worldwide are born with clubfoot. Clubfoot is a condition where one or both feet are twisted inward, causing the child to walk on their ankles.

In Tanzania, it is estimated that more than 2,800 children are born with clubfoot each year. 50 per cent of children born with clubfoot are affected in only one foot and the other 50 per cent are affected in both feet.

Eighty per cent of untreated clubfoot is found in developing countries. If left untreated, the condition causes severe pain while walking, creating a lifelong disability. "It was really bad. I felt bad that my son might be permanently unable to walk normally and I had no idea what the problem was," Hajj recalls.

"I felt like it was the end of the world for me and my child; I had so many questions on my son's condition. How would he survive...walk? Will he be laughed at by others? Will he go to a special school? I was completely confused," she lamented.

One of the nurses informed her that the disability could be treated at Comprehensive Community-Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT) in Msasani at no cost. What followed was a series of hospital visits where doctors embarked on the process of treating the infant over a few months.

According to the Orthopedic Doctor at the CCBRT Hospital, Dr Zainab Ilonga, the cause of clubfoot is unknown. "In reality, we do not know the specific root cause of this condition, but we believe the cause may be associated with alcohol or drug abuse during pregnancy or genetic inheritance, research is going on to ascertain the real cause," he said.

“There are two ways of treating clubfoot; one is the Ponseti method which does not involve surgery while the second one involves surgery,” Dr Ilonga explained. “In Tanzania, we treat about 400 children per year (which is about 25 percent of total patients), because some parents tend to hide their affected kids,” he lamented.

Ignacio V. Ponseti can be credited with developing the comprehensive technique for treating congenital clubfoot in the 1940s. One of the major principles of this technique is the concept that the tissues of a newborn's foot, including tendons, ligaments, joint capsules, will yield to gentle manipulation and casting of the feet at weekly intervals.

By applying this technique of treating clubfoot within the first few weeks of life, the condition can be successfully corrected without the need for major reconstructive surgery.

Salma’s child underwent a series of gentle bone manipulations and castings to trigger biological response of muscles, ligaments and bone tissue in a bid to restore the deformed legs. “There were times he was inconsolable, crying for days and days and on end. I too cried. I was pessimistic of the life my son would have,” the pensive mother said. “I thank Tigo and CCBRT Hospital medical team for their support because now my son is ten months old and fully recovered,” the smiling mother said.

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