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Taking a Step Forward: Foot Care and Minority Health

April is National Minority Health Month and Foot Health Awareness Month. This presents a wonderful opportunity to highlight the intersection of these two topics.

Health disparities among people of color is not just a current-day concern. Many years ago, Booker T. Washington, who rose from slavery to become a leading African American educator, advocated for economic progress—not just through education, but by addressing the environment in which people live, including sanitation and access to health care.

Also, health disparities among people of color is not an issue limited to the United States. Consider the work of Arinda Botha, who is working in Pretoria and other areas in South Africa to address a serious foot care crisis. The country is extremely poor and access to foot care is limited. There was and still is an urgent need for foot care providers. With treatment for minor conditions and correct referrals to other medical professionals, amputations can be prevented and wound ulcers can be detected and treated early.

Thirty-five years ago, Arinda sprouted an idea to address the foot care crisis in her community. She pioneered foot care in South Africa, focusing on those who could not afford podiatrists for their routine needs and on people abandoned by the health care systems.

Arinda worked long hours for little money, endured harassment and threats from podiatrists in the city, and enjoyed virtually no appreciation from the staff of health care facilities. She was often turned away, told that providing foot care was too expensive and that she should be taking care of her children. Her business name, Heavenly Feet, was taken by another entity, and she was betrayed multiple times by people she taught and mentored.

None of Arinda’s early attempts to gain attention from the government and health councils of the critical issue of foot care yielded any results. The qualifications bureau—South African Qualifications Authority—kept losing her application forms to register the course she taught and meetings with their board members were not received positively.

Though it was a long journey, Arinda was persistent. She maintained her drive to provide foot care to those most in need. 

Foot Care Family nursesIn 2020, Arinda contacted the American Foot Care Nurses Association (AFCNA). Dr. Julia Overstreet, DPM, FAPWCA, a podiatric physician and surgeon based in Issaquah, Washington, took great interest in the work that Arinda was doing in the field and recognized the frequent dismissal and disrespect that Arinda experienced. Fast forward—Arinda is now a certified Foot Care Specialist and Educator, operating the Foot Care Family clinic in Waverley, Pretoria, South Africa as a chapter of the AFCNA. She is the first individual on the continent of Africa to hold this qualification.

The Waverly clinic opened on December 12, 2020. A second clinic is planned for Cape Town. 

Thanks to Arinda Botha’s passion and determination, and a GoFundMe page for student bursaries (scholarships) organized by Dr. Overstreet, approximately 30 students have been trained to provide foot care to those most in need, and more than 100 applications have been received for future training. Arinda says her dream is to train 1,000 foot care therapists in South Africa by the year 2030.

“We stand back in awe at the realization that the Foot Care Family is growing in numbers every month and is changing our communities in more ways than only foot care,” said Arinda. “Without Dr Julia and her team’s constant inspiration and motivation, nothing would have been accomplished.”

Health care is a worldwide issue, and a human right. What can you do? Be an advocate and champion for health care issues. Stay strong, steadfast in supporting people and communities that are marginalized and forgotten.

Mary Pat O'LearyContributor Mary Pat O’Leary, RN, BSN is a senior planner at Aging and Disability Services, a division of the Seattle Human Services Department.

Foot Care Family photos courtesy of Arinda Botha.