September 25, 2018

Albinos are not evil, biko! – Emeka Nwolisa

Albinos are not evil, biko! – Emeka Nwolisa

We all know June 12th for obvious reasons but June 13th is a different matter because of is ts significance. Though not as historic as 12th, 13th carries a lot of symbolism and significance.

June 13th is the  International Albinism Awareness Day (IAAD). Marking the day yearly is expected to help increase awareness and understanding of albinism in order to fight against global discrimination and stigma against persons with albinism.

ppAlbinism is an inherited disorder that’s present at birth. Children are at risk of being born with albinism if they have parents with albinism or parents who carry the gene for albinism. Albinism is characterized by the inadequate production of the pigment melanin. Melanin is the chemical that gives the skin, hair and the iris of the eye their colour. People with albinism tend to have the following symptoms:

  • an absence of colour in the hair, skin, or eyes
  • lighter than normal colouring of the hair, skin, or eyes

The visual problems associated with albinism may include:

  • strabismus ( crossed eyes)
  • photophobia(sensitivity to light)
  • nystagmus (involuntary rapid eye movements)
  • impaired vision or blindness

There are primarily two basic types of albinism. These are oculocutaneous albinism and ocular albinism. Oculocutaneous albinism or OCA affects the pigment in the eyes, hair and skin. People with this usually also suffer from eyesight problems. Ocular albinism or OA, is not as obvious as the skin and hair do not have such extreme lack of pigmentation.Their major problem is with vision.

Nigeria has an estimated six million  albinos and most suffer intense stigmatisation.  People jeer at them on the streets, mock and insult them. Most schools make no special provisions for children with albinism in spite of their severe visual challenge.  The children can’t also readily play in the sun like their peers because of the risk  of sun burns and  skin cancer.

In addition to health challenges suffered by albinos they also have to contend with destructive local myths.  In the last couple of years, close to about 200 killings and more than 500 attacks on people with albinism have been reported in 27 sub -Saharan African countries. Most of these attacks are fuelled by rising demand for the body parts of people with albinism which are then used in rituals by traditional healers.

The hair and bones, genitals and thumbs of people with albinism are said to possess mythical powers alleged to bring wealth or success. These body parts are  often dried and ground, put into a package to be secreted in boats, businesses, homes or clothing, or scattered in the sea.

People with hunch backs also face  this same kind of risk.

Albinism can be diagnosed clinically but the most accurate way to diagnose albinism is through genetic testing to detect defective genes related to albinism.  Electroetinogram is a test that measures the response of the light-sensitive cells in the eyes to reveal eye problems associated with albinism.

There is as yet no cure for albinism. However, treatment can relieve symptoms and prevent sun damage. Treatment may include:

  • sunglasses to protect the eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays
  • protective clothing and sunscreen to protect the skin from UV rays
  • prescription eyeglasses to correct vision problems
  • surgery on the muscles of the eyes to correct abnormal eye movements

Albinos are not witches and their organs have no magical properties. They are normal people and can achieve greatness!

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