Contrary to popular superstitions and myths, especially those in Africa which consider albinism as a magical or ghostly phenomenon, albinism is a genetic medical condition characterized by reduced melanin production in the eyes, skin, and hair.
1. It's a medical condition
Melanin is the pigment that offers skin its color. Melanin deprivation among persons with albinism (PWA) makes them susceptible to sunburns and thus a risk of developing skin cancer.
Due to its genetic nature, albinism has no cure, and persons with albinism have to adapt to living with the condition for the rest of their lives. However, treatment can relieve some of the symptoms. For instance, eye surgery can be carried out to correct issues such as involuntary rapid eye movements, while prescription glasses can be given to correct vision problems.
2. It's a Disability
Albinism is widely recognized as a disability due to the associated vision impairment. The Melanin deprivation in the eyes of PWA leads to vision problems such as blindness, low vision, involuntary rapid eye movements, increased sensitivity to light, and crossed eyes among other issuess. Such defects can affect the daily life of those affected. As such, PWA need assistive devices such as eyeglasses for them to be able to function normally.
Albinism is recognized as a disability in Kenya, with the government, running an Albinism Support Program through the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) The Program aims to offer protective products such as a sunscreen that will protect PWA from the effects of harsh sun rays, which could lead to skin cancer. The Council also provides protective clothing, comprehensive eyewear, as well as carrying out awareness creation activities.
3. Albinism is not associated with magical powers
As a rare condition affecting at least one in 17,000 persons in the world, albinism is a misunderstood condition; with many people holding the superstitious belief that PWA have some black magic power. Such beliefs have put a target on the back of PWA as they are often targeted for ritual killings, especially in Eastern Africa. Some people believe that the body parts of persons with albinism have magical powers that can bring luck such as wealth or political success.
In Tanzania, at least 75 PWA were reportedly killed between 2000 and 2016. At the end of July this year, the UN Human Rights Council reported an increase in the number of killings of PWA during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the report, many people who were experiencing economic hardships due to the impact of the pandemic turned to witchcraft to get quick riches. Persons with albinism were targeted in the evil schemes due to the perception that they hold some black magic that can bring good tidings including prosperity.
Nothing is further than the truth. Albinism is a medical condition like any other and persons with albinism do not possess any unusual powers. PWA only stand out because of their light skin pigmentation in the same way a person with a lot of melanin pigment will stand out because of being dark.