The body of people with albinism cannot produce melanin. Those affected are often exposed to prejudice, exclusion and violence. But there is also hope.
They are considered the «white blacks» and are unmistakable with their light skin and reddish-blonde hair: people with albinism.
Most of those affected live in African countries, but the intense solar radiation on the equator is poison for them. Your light skin is unprotected without the dye melanin, and the intense light damages your eyes, which are already sensitive. People with albinism have an increased risk of developing skin cancer. World Albinism Day on June 13 aims to draw attention to their situation.
According to the self-help organization Peacemakers for Albinism in Tanzania, 80 percent of Tanzanians with albinism do not reach the age of 30. But that’s not the only reason why they live dangerously. Deadly superstitions mean that many children with albinism do not survive their early years.
Because people with albinism are not only literally drawn, their body parts are said to bring luck and wealth. A report published a few weeks ago by the pan-African child protection organization ACPF reported attacks on children with albinism in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Malawi and Tanzania.
Ignored for too long
“Africans have ignored this horrific violence for too long,” said ACPF Director Joan Nyanyuki at the launch of the report in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Children with albinism are in a particularly difficult situation and are at risk of extreme violence and death.
Even if each individual case is too many: the report confirms progress in the fight against deadly superstition in Malawi, for example. Since the government took decisive action against the practice of “magic medicine” made from body parts of kidnapped and murdered children, the number of such attacks has fallen from 60 in 2016 to four last year.
Even when they are not threatened with death, many people with albinism experience rejection and isolation from an early age. For many people, they are more ghosts than people – in Tanzania, for example, according to the self-help organization Standing Voice, they are called “zeru zeru”, which means something like “not human”. Social isolation is often accompanied by poor health care and significantly fewer educational opportunities. According to the Standing Voice, just under half of children with albinism in Tanzania complete primary school.
“People with albinism need our special support,” says Rainer Brockhaus, head of the Christoffel Blindenmission (CBM), which is committed to medical care and against the exclusion of sick and disabled people. CBM projects also focus on educating neighbors, teachers and classmates. Sometimes relatively simple steps can make a big difference – for example for four-year-old Aisha from Uganda and her little brother, who also has albinism. In a clinic sponsored by CBM, the children were given special glasses with dark lenses so that they were less blinded and could see better.