On March 26, Joan Namayanja wakes before dawn in Matugga, 20 kilometers north of Kampala, Uganda. Her baby boy, Elijah, is due for his final round of casts before beginning the bracing phase of treatment. She doesn’t even know if the clinic at Mulago Hospital will open, but she feels desperate to try.
Elijah will be one of the last patients treated by MiracleFeet partners before clinics suspend operations worldwide in an effort to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Joan has made the trip with her son to Mulago over six times now by motorcycle taxi and minibus—but this day she walks, carrying Elijah the entire way along the narrow highway leading into the capital. The night before, Uganda banned all public transportation as one of the first steps in fighting the epidemic.
She knows she could remove her son’s casts at home, but also knows that his feet would probably relapse without a brace. They have made so much progress towards treatment that they are reluctant to pause, even in the face of a public health crisis. After four hours on foot, they arrive at the clinic, relived to find it open. They are first in line but are soon joined by a few other mothers and infants eagerly seeking treatment before the clinic closes to protect families and providers from the spread of coronavirus.
14 hours and 40 KM after beginning their journey, Elijah and his mother are back home, along with his brace and instructions for the next several weeks of care.
Many parents with the same worries made similar journeys last week. Their stories of fear, exhaustion, relief, and pain reach the MiracleFeet team every day, from every region. They weigh on us as we make difficult decisions in these unprecedented times.
Our guidance to global partners, issued on March 27, recommends suspending all treatment for at least 30 days. It is frustrating that after so much effort to ensure children reach clinics and receive proper treatment, we find ourselves asking them to stay away, but our medical advisors agree it is the best course of action—that, in the case of clubfoot, the risk posed to health workers, patients, and families outweigh the benefits of immediate treatment.
Staying in close contact with the thousands of families whose children are enrolled in treatment is our primary concern right now, and we will work with partners to keep parents informed and connected to clinic staff during this time until treatment can safely resume.