What if a shoe distribution could set in motion a series of events that would eventually eradicate a disease from an entire nation, and ultimately, a continent? Because, that’s what’s next.

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Samaritan’s Feet has partnered with Sanford Health, a health system dedicated to transforming the health care experience, in part by providing shoes in order to increase the quality of life for those in need. The two organizations began their efforts together in Africa by sending a container of 15,000 pairs of shoes to Ghana.

“We partnered with Samaritan’s Feet with the goal of giving kids shoes so they don’t have the parasitic infections or foot borne diseases. That’s a really good thing, but we know we can do more on top of that because I see this is an execution strategy, too. Teachers also validated that and said more people show up to school when they know they will get shoes,” said David Pearce, PhD, President, Innovation, Research, and Sanford World Clinic, Sanford Health.

Dr. Pearce oversees research for Sanford Health, including preparing and studying potential therapies and clinical trials. He also manages the World Clinic program, which was initially established in different countries to learn about how health care was delivered, but to also make a contribution to those communities’ unmet needs. In Ghana, in particular, Sanford Health opened up specific World Clinics for sickle cell anemia, type 1 diabetes, and infectious diseases.

“About 5% of children in Ghana are experiencing parasitic infections of the gastrointestinal tract. So, we partnered with Samaritan’s Feet to demonstrate that before you get a pair of shoes, you can also get a deworming medication,” said Dr. Pearce.

In November of 2021, Samaritan’s Feet and Sanford Health did their first shoe distribution in Prampram, Ghana where deworming medication was also given out. That day, around 1,600 students were walked to the Ghana Health Services building class-by-class from their schools nearby. Their first stop was the hand-washing station, where they carefully cleaned and washed their hands before moving on to the deworming station.

The students arrived at that station to receive a deworming pill, one that will help a child’s body absorb nutrients while also helping expel worms from the stomach and prevent any sort of infection. After taking the pill, they got a bag of water to wash it down. Next, it was time for new shoes where community and Sanford Health volunteers sat in front of the students ready to serve them individually. They gently washed and cleaned the students’ feet and then placed a pair of properly-fitting shoes on them. These shoes were special—they were World Shoes—which contain an anti-microbial to help prevent infections in the feet.

Teachers in Prampram noted that more kids show up to school when they are getting new shoes, plus the obvious benefit that the 5% of the kids with parasitic infections will be healed by the deworming pill.

“We’ve shown that we can deliver shoes and medication, such as the deworming pills. So, in October 2022 we did our first pilot shoe distribution event where we’ll be giving out the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations to about 250-300 people,” said Dr. Pearce. “We’re going back to Ghana because it’s been demonstrated in the western world that if you vaccinate against the HPV virus, which has been going on for 26 years in places like the UK and Australia, that there aren’t any women with cervical cancer anymore. HPV is associated to cervical cancer and those nations with vaccines aren’t seeing any.”

The first event will serve around 250 kids with new shoes and the HPV vaccine, then in April 2023, another event will take place back in Prampram to serve around 2,000 individuals in that community. Dr. Pearce added about his experience at the shoe distribution: “They’re so appreciative of the time spent and they’re so appreciative of the shoes. They may not understand the medical piece, but there’s a degree of trust there. They’re thinking ‘ok these people are here to do some good.’ And that’s what human nature should be about.”

The ultimate goal of these events and partnership will be a larger scale delivery of shoes and the HPV vaccine so that, in 26 years time, just like with other nations, there will no woman with cervical cancer in Ghana.

“Right now in Ghana, if a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, she’s probably in stage 3 or stage 4 and there’s really not much outlook for that. Probably many women pass from cervical cancer without even getting a diagnosis. We know from the numbers it’s a large number of people who contract it, and cancer doesn’t care about what part of the world you’re in,” said Dr. Pearce.

“This will save lives. This means it will save money in the health system and people can make a more valuable contribution to society. The women who participate, I think they will become champions for the cause and education, because everything like this requires education,” said Dr. Pearce. “I think we’ll be creating a new industry, not just in terms of distribution of vaccines, but a new industry in terms of advocacy of these types of medicines or approaches.”

The economic effect of this program in Ghana could be incredibly significant, but that’s not all Samaritan’s Feet can do to make such an impact.

What if we back the entire process up? What if we create an opportunity to employ Ghanaians to create and produce the shoes that are given out in their country? What if there were micro-manufacturing facilities in Ghana that provide employment and create a more efficient supply-chain process when serving in Ghana and Africa? That may be what’s next, too.