BY Paul Ndiho
December 21, 2009
People around the world have many beliefs regarding albinism, the hereditary absence of skin pigment. These beliefs range from harmless myth to dangerous superstitions. In East African countries such as Tanzania, there has been an unprecedented rise in witchcraft-related killings of albino people in recent months. This is because albino body parts are used in potions sold by witchdoctors.
Most forms of albinism are the result of the biological inheritance of recessive genes from both parents. People with albinism commonly have vision problems and need constant sun protection. But they also face social challenges, as the condition often leads to ridicule, discrimination, and even threats and murder.
People with albinism have little or no pigment in their eyes, skin, or hair. Albinism affects people from all races. To help us understand more (about) albinism I came to this Marriott hotel and talked to some families.
Mike McGowan is a person with albinism and has served as the President of the National Organization for Albinism and Hypo pigmentation since 2001.
“The main characteristic from a physiological viewpoint is an uncorrectable low vision associated with albinism. Virtually every person with albinism has some degree of vision loss or vision impairment that at this time cannot be corrected.” Says Mike McGowan, President of the National Organization for Albinism and Hypo Pigmentation (NOAH)

Albinism is a source of social rejection in nearly every culture. NOAH board member Margaret Mary Campbell recalls how she was picked on by some students in her elementary school in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.
“There was one boy in particular that used to chase me around and throw snowballs with rocks at me. There were some kids that would pick on me but then everybody has their own circle of friends. I think is true for most people with albinism, they form their own circle of friends and they find acceptance within that circle.”
The Dubois family lives in the Washington, D.C. area. Susan Dubois says she and her husband were taken by surprise when their children Katy and Nick were born with albinism. The youngsters say they are coping well socially, but their visual challenges are not well understood.

“Well, not many people tease me but a lot of times people don’t really know, a lot of times I have trouble seeing things because people forget that I can’t see things very well sometimes. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to them that I just don’t see the way that everyone else does.” Katy’s brother Nick agrees.
“So the same with Katy, people don’t tease, I also use equipment to help me see the worksheets better, like for example a CCTV or I used to use a Dell Magnifier.”
Globally, about one person in 20-thousand has albinism. People with albinism face dire threats in parts of Africa. The Federation for the Red Cross and Crescent societies says since 2008, more than 44 albinos have been killed in Tanzania and some 14 others have been slain in Burundi, forcing hundreds of people with albinism to go into camps. Mike McGowan says his U.S. group has mobilized to send aid to East Africa.

“We have begun to organize relief efforts to bring some of the very simple supplies that people with albinism in Africa would benefit from. Protection from the sun is as simple as proper clothing and a cap with a bill and sunscreen, and we are working as best we can to collect those sorts of materials and get them to East Africa.”
Albinos in Africa have a short life expectancy. They lack simple resources such as clothing to protect them from the intense sunlight that is very harmful for people with albinism.
The mistaken belief that albino body parts have magical powers has driven thousands of Africa’s albinos into hiding, fearful of losing their lives and limbs. African albinos endure insults, discrimination and segregation throughout their lives. They also have a high risk of contracting skin cancer.

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