20 Namibians get free foot, ankle surgery

By Paulina Ndalikokule

ABOUT 20 Namibians benefited from free foot, ankle surgical treatment at Lady Pohamba Private Hospital, courtesy of a global foot and ankle outreach programme organised by the Steps2Walk organisation.

Step2Walk is a non-profit organisation that reaches out to patients with foot and ankle pathology in under-privileged communities around the globe. Namibia became an annual fixture in 2018 on the global programme, which brings together surgeons from around the world to serve a double purpose.

An orthopaedic surgeon who was also the programme host doctor, Jacques Heinrich Jonck, said this year they identified 40 state patients with complex foot and ankle problems who need surgical treatment.

He said only 20 patients could be treated surgically during this year’s programme, thus the remaining patients would have to wait to be treated next year with the help of local implant companies and the support of Lady Pohamba hospital.

“I will attempt to treat at least one patient per month for the remaining 20 patients, next year. I personally followed last year’s patients post-operatively until complete recovery and can testify for the positive change it made in their lives,” the doctor said.

At last year’s outreach, 15 orthopaedic surgeons received academic and practical training during the week where they learned valuable new skills and a renewed passion to help patients with foot and ankle problems.

Jonck said the international surgeons were hand-picked and all have special skills that they are willing to offer free of charge to the local patient community and at the same time teach the Southern African countries orthopaedic foot and ankle community.

The executive director and founder of Steps2Walk Doctor, Mark Myerson, said during last year’s outreach 18 Namibian state patients with crippling deformation received surgical treatment from the surgeons involved and local medical officers in orthopaedic surgery, at the Lady Pohamba hospital.

“All of these patients had complex problems, and are part of the state healthcare system and under normal circumstances would not have had access to this type of treatment,” Myerson said.

The week-long programme that started and ended last week also included educating and empowering participating surgeons on the treatment. Participants of the workshop hosted in Namibia also included surgeons South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe.

Diabetic foot is seen as a most common complication in Namibia and unfortunately most are presented to health facilities late. Reports say diabetic foot ulcers are a major cause of disease and death in people with diabetes and if not treated early the infection will spread and result in cellulitis or infection of the bone.

Common symptoms of diabetic foot include changes in skin colour, swelling in affected toe or foot, fungal infection, as well as ulceration. It can be avoided by a healthy diet, wearing well-fitting shoes, control of infection by antibiotics and local treatment of ulcers.

Another disease is diabetes neuropathy caused by high blood sugar levels that damages the nerves, especially those in the feet. Other factors which can make this nerve damage worse, such as a history of smoking, alcoholism, or history of diabetic neuropathy in the family.

A heel spur is an outgrowth of calcium that develops between the heel bone and the arch of the foot. They are caused by long-term strain on muscles and ligaments. They can also be further caused by arthritis, excess bodyweight, and by wearing badly fitted or worn-out shoes.

Other related diseases include claw toe, stone bruise, corn, blisters and plantar fasciitis.