Albinism a big challenge in public health in Africa

13Jun 2020
The Guardian
Albinism a big challenge in public health in Africa

International Albinism Awareness Day is celebrated annually on June 13 to celebrate the human rights of persons with albinism worldwide. Around the mid-2000s, reports made public a rising number of violent attacks on and murders of persons with albinism in Tanzania.

Albinism, is the most prevalent type found throughout Africa. Due to the lack of melanin, people with albinism are more susceptible to the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation exposure. This population must deal with issues such as photophobia, decreased visual acuity, extreme sun sensitivity and skin cancer. People with albinism also face social discrimination as a result of their difference in appearance. The World Health Organisation is currently investigating the issues concerning this vulnerable population.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) pilot survey of albinism was drafted in English, French and Portuguese, and distributed to African countries through WHO African Regional Offices in an attempt to gather further information on albinism.

Many reports have accused perpetrators to attribute magical powers to the bodies of persons with albinism and, thus, to be motivated to use them for lucky charms and occult rituals. Until 2015, perpetrators killed more than 70 victims and harmed many more. In response, the Tanzania Albinism Society (TAS) and other NGOs began campaigning for the human rights of persons with albinism. TAS celebrated the first ‘Albino Day’ on May 4, 2006. It became ‘National Albino Day’ from 2009 onwards and was eventually called 'National Albinism Day'.

On an international level, the Canadian NGO Under the Same Sun (UTSS) joined late Ambassador of the Mission of Somalia to the United Nations (UN), Yusuf Mohamed Ismail Bari-Bari, in his effort to pass a resolution promoting and protecting the rights of persons with albinism. Such a resolution came about when the Human Rights Council on June 13, 2013 adopted the first resolution ever on albinism. Later on, in its resolution of June 26, 2014 the Human Rights Council recommended June 13 to be proclaimed as International Albinism Awareness Day by the United Nations' General Assembly. The UN's General Assembly, then, adopted on December 18, 2014 resolution to proclaim, with effect from 2015, June 13 as International Albinism Awareness Day. The chosen date is reminiscent of the UN’s first ever resolution which was passed on June 13 a year before. Today, IAAD is celebrated around the world from Tanzania, to Argentina, to Senegal, to Fiji, France, the United Kingdom and Namibia.

Epidemiologic data on albinism, such as prevalence, were available for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Nigeria. Prevalences as high as 1 in 1,000 were reported for selected populations in Zimbabwe and other specific ethnic groups in southern Africa. In addition, both the literature review and the survey underscored the medical and social issues facing people with albinism.

The estimated prevalence of albinism suggests the existence of tens of thousands of people living with albinism in Africa. This finding reiterates the need for increased awareness of and public health interventions for albinism in order to better address the medical, psychological and social needs of this vulnerable population.

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