Namibians to Get Free Foot, Ankle Surgery

11 December 2019

Around 40 Namibians will have a life-changing opportunity when they receive free corrective foot and ankle surgery through the Steps2Walk initiative.

Driven by a group of doctors from around the world and local partners, including Gondwana Collection Namibia, Ohlthaver & List (O&L) as well as the Lady Pohamba Private Hospital (LPPH), the initiative will target patients from previously disadvantaged communities countrywide.

While the target is to benefit 40 patients, around 20 patients will be assisted now, and the remainder early next year. The international, non-profit organisation Steps2Walk aims to add another 40 patients in 2020.

This is the second installation of the Steps2Walk project in Namibia, with a first similar initiative in 2018 seeing 40 Namibians operated on.

Speaking at the launch of the outreach programme in Windhoek on Monday, Dr Mark Myerson, who is the executive director and founder of Steps2Walk, said part of the NGO's work is to educate surgeons to perform these surgeries. "I have been doing humanitarian service for about 20 years. About four years ago, I realised that the work I was doing by operating on adults and children, especially children with terrible deformities, was not accomplishing enough. It is a very simple concept that you can give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he will eat forever. The same principle we apply to what we are doing worldwide," he explained.

In line with giving back, Myerson said he developed the Steps2Walk, a group of roughly 200 international surgeon volunteers who are leaders in the field of orthopaedic and foot and ankle surgeries, which includes club foot.

"We are currently working in 16 countries, and we expand by adding another three countries every year. Our mission is to treat these disabled children and adults who really lead a terrible life. They cannot walk, they cannot get to school, they cannot work, and at the same time we bring in surgeons from the regions to educate in the treatment of these problems, and empower them because they need to be able to manage these problems independently", he continued.

Myerson said their organisation has been successful and growing rapidly, with the potential to operate in almost every country worldwide with a proven need.

"On a personal level, I would like to thank LPPH; it is quite remarkable. This is the only hospital in the world, where it is a private hospital, that would accept state patients for treatment. As a tribute to this hospital, these surgeons are prepared to make this contribution to your country, your patients, in a manner like this. For us, it makes a huge difference. We will be here for a week, and our goal is to educate the surgeons and guide the local surgeons in the management of the surgical treatment of these patients," Myerson noted.

Dr Jacques Jonek, a doctor at the state hospital's orthopaedic department, said the surgeries will take place this week at the LPPH, at no cost as the beneficiaries do not have medical aid. He said the surgeries are costly, but are paid for by the different sponsors on board.

Jonek, who is the local host, said this is the second time this initiative is taking place in Namibia, with 2018 recording successful surgeries.

He added that they are unfortunately only able to operate on between 18 and 20 patients this week due to low capacity, and the doctors are discussing ways of being able to provide surgery for the rest of the patients sometime next year because next year, the group will take on 40 more patients.

"There are delegate doctors from four southern African countries, which are Angola, Botswana, South Africa and obviously Namibia, and the international faculty that is coming to help us with academic and practical knowledge originate from the United States, Canada and Portugal," he said.

The Windhoek State Hospital's Dr Helena Kashawako from the orthopaedic department is in charge of the club foot clinic with nurse Hedwig Howaeb for both children and adults.

Kashawako said they assist in screening the patients and identify the patients in need of surgery. She added that it is an honour to be part of this humanitarian project which has brought change to the lives of especially the children.

Nurse Howaeb also expressed her gratefulness to the Steps2Walk initiative.

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