Africa and Albinism: Horrors give rise to awareness

By Mbatia Maurice Chege

Posted on Friday, 19 October 2012 13:56

Some African communities mistakenly think albinos are mentally retarded and discourage their parents from taking them to school. It is a waste of money, some argue.

“Albinism is one of the most unfortunate vulnerabilities,” said International Federation for the Red Cross and Crescent Societies secretary general, Bekele Geleta. “And it needs to be addressed immediately at an international level.”

Albinism in humans is commonly characterised physically with visual problems and need for sun protection.

This is due to incomplete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes as a result of absence or defect of tyrosine’s, a copper-containing enzyme involved in the production of melanin.

Albinism results from inheritance of recessive gene alleles and is known to affect all vertebrates, including humans.

Other challenges include social and cultural challenges inhibited by ridicule, discrimination, or even fear and violence.

 Albinos also have a high risk of contracting skin cancer in a region where many jobs are outdoors.

it is very visible that people don’t appreciate albinism as normal but an estranged deformity

African albinos endure segregation and threat throughout their lives, and in some cases they are killed after birth to avoid discrimination.

In some African countries such as Tanzania and Burundi, there has been an unprecedented rise in witchcraft-related killings of albino people in recent years.

Their body parts are used in potions sold by witchdoctors or black magic practitioners and this sees them often fall prey to human traffickers.

Sex with albinos and HIV

Numerous authenticated incidents, further showing people’s ignorance on albinism, have occurred in Africa during the 21st century.

Some communities hold the false belief that sex with an albinistic woman will cure a man of HIV.

Professor Samuel Dombo, a teacher at the Kigali Institute of Education with a PHD in linguistics from Reading University in Britain, is an albino who is happily married with seven children.

Though he recounts his early childhood days as not being smooth and challenging especially with discrimination, he was not deterred from striving for his rights and education.

He says he was brought up in Congo where the society discriminates less, unlike Rwanda where people looked down upon him, making him feel out of place.

“From banking halls, public transports systems, churches, supermarkets and other public places it is very visible that people don’t appreciate albinism as normal but an estranged deformity.”

But Dombo believes that people will change their attitudes once they get to know him better.

In Swaziland two cases have so far been reported of two young children who have fallen prey to murders, as reported by The Times of Swaziland.

In Nairobi, Kenya — Mary Owido, who lacks the pigment that gives colour to skin, eyes and hair, recalls her ordeals and says she is only comfortable when at work or at home with her husband and children.

She has had to transfer and change jobs and locations for fear of being attacked.

Despite the horror, Isaac Mwaura, chairman of the Albino Association of Kenya argues that the killings experienced in different parts of Africa have also given albinos a platform to raise awareness.

About 90 percent of albinos living in most African regions were raised by single mothers, because the fathers believed their wives were having affairs with white men.

A Vancouver-based NGO reported that a toll of albino murders was 57 in Tanzania, others still remain uncounted for in other countries.

Out of 63 reported cases in Tanzania a mere two suspects have been apprehended and convicted in two years.

While in Burundi 12 out of the 14 cases have been successfully prosecuted.

Police in Tanzanian estimate the value to be £50,000 at which witch doctors acquire a complete set of albino parts.

With a country that has about 15,000 albinos, only 8 000 are registered with the Albino society. 

The annual Professional Social Work Conference started on Tuesday 16th October, 2012 in Dar es Salaam with social work and rights of people with albinism (PWA) high on the agenda.

Due to a lack of education, many albinos are illiterate and are forced into menial jobs, exposing them to the sun and skin cancer.

Those who manage to finish school face discrimination in the work place and are never considered for promotions.

The emphasis should be laid on changing people’s attitude to them and how best they can be protected from being prey to human traffickers.

Mbatia Maurice Chege is an East African Human rights and Multimedia journalist

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