According to Wikipedia, Albinism in humans is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment (color) in the skin, hair and eyes. Albinism is also associated with a number of vision defects.
Lack of skin pigmentation makes a person more susceptible to sunburn, skin cancers and infection.
Because individuals with albinism have skin that entirely lacks the dark pigment melanin, which helps protect the skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays their skin can burn more easily from overexposure.
The human eye normally produces enough pigment to color the iris blue, green or brown and lend denseness to the eye. For albinos, lack of pigment in their eyes also results in problems with vision.
Albinos are generally as healthy as the rest of the population, with growth and development occurring as normal, and albinism by itself does not cause mortality, although the lack of pigment blocking ultraviolet radiation increases the risk of melanomas (skin cancers) and other problems.
As there is no cure for albinism, it is managed through lifestyle adjustments. People with albinism need to take care not to sunburn and should have regular healthy skin checks by a dermatologist.
For the most part, treatment of the eye conditions consists of visual rehabilitation. Glasses and other vision aids, large-print materials as well as bright but angled reading lights, can help individuals with albinism, even though their vision cannot be corrected completely.
Some people with albinism do well using bifocals (with a strong reading lens), prescription reading glasses, and/or hand-held devices such as magnifiers or monoculars.
Albinism affects people of all ethnic backgrounds; its frequency worldwide is estimated to be approximately one in 17,000. Prevalence of the different forms of albinism varies considerably by population, and is highest overall in people of sub-Saharan African descent.
In African countries such as Tanzania and Burundi, there has been an unprecedented rise in witchcraft-related killings of people with albinism in recent years, because their body parts are used in potions sold by witchdoctors. Numerous authenticated incidents have occurred in Africa during the 21st century. For example, in Tanzania, in September 2009, three men were convicted of killing a 14-year-old albino boy and severing his legs in order to sell them for witchcraft purposes. Again in Tanzania and Burundi in 2010, the murder and dismemberment of a kidnapped albino child was reported from the courts, as part of a continuing problem. National Geographic estimates that in Tanzania a complete set of albino body parts is worth $75,000.
Another harmful and false belief is that sex with an albinistic woman will cure a man of HIV. This has led, for example in Zimbabwe, to rapes (and subsequent HIV infection).
U-Thant Smith, a Liberian albino activist living in the United States of America, once stated that “it’s cruel how albinos are stigmatized, especially because of how they look,” an issue many Liberian albinos were faced with until a recent initiative was launched in Liberia to give free skin cancer preventive treatment.
I met a four year old albino girl tucked away in a crowded classroom in Bomi Hills last month and couldn’t believe that her skin was so tan, smooth, but yet she bore the blue eyes of an albino. My first question to her principal was, “Have you registered her with the Albinism Society?”
“Thank you for letting us know; we will make sure to inform the government that we have an albino in our school,” responded the principal of Hill Town Elementary School.
The child was straightway taken out of class and assessed for further information. Her parents were notified of a program substantial to the child’s welfare.
According to another child who claimed to be her sister, their mother takes very good care of the child’s skin and keeps them indoors often.
“She can’t play outside and we use kernel oil on her skin,” the sister added.
Meanwhile, the preventive skin cancer treatment is a blessing because the US based National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation says that albinos living in tropical regions such as West Africa are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
With children like this four year old quietly tucked away in Hill Town, Bomi Hills, their parents need to be informed of who the president of Liberia Albino Society (LAS), Patricia Logan, is and how she quite recently made an alarming revelation.
“Every year cancer is killing our people (albinos), and every year we are dying of skin cancer,” she stated on national TV.
Patricia is an albino as well and advocates for the rights of those who could fall victim to death and blindness if they are not reached out to as this four year old girl was.
But with the coming of elections in Liberia next year and other events in surrounding countries plus the belief that albino blood brings good luck, the welfare of this four year- old child and every albino is at further risk due to the false assumption that is the result of the high demand for their blood and body parts – that people can get material wealth as a result.
It is alarming to know that the future of an albino in Liberia is not certain, but with the help of organizations that look out for their well being, there could be hope for this child and other albinos in the country.
By Claudia Smith