Friday, June 17, 2011

Angolan Albinos: Living with Health and Social Challenges

Albinism is a genetically inherited condition which affects some 2000 Angolans, according to World Health Organization statistics. While in Europe and the United States albinism affects about one in 20,000 people, in some parts of Africa the rate is as high as one in 1,100.  The prevalence of this rate is mainly attributed the ritual intermarriage practices of Africans to people within their own tribe, thus propagating the condition.

Genetically, albinism is passed from parent to child, in which the body does not produce the pigment melanin. Albinos are born with pale skin, light hair, pinkish eyes and and impaired vision. Melanin is the skin’s own natural protection against the sun’s rays and lack of melanin puts albinos at risk for many types of solar skin damage, including deadly skin cancers. The risk is of skin cancer is especially great for albinos living in sub-Sarahan African regions like Angola, where ultraviolet rays are high because of the close proximity to the Equator.

Inherent to Africans born with this genetic condition, comes social segregation and discrimination because of the obvious appearance dissimilarities and the long-held tribal superstitions about the powers that albinos are perceived to possess. While albinos in Angola appear to not face overt violent attacks because of cultural norms, reports from countries like Senegal and Tanzania tell how albinos face grave and even life-threatening discrimination.  Albinos have been murdered in Tanzania and Burundi, apparently being targeted because of the belief  peddled by some witch doctors that albino's blood or body parts have magical qualities that can bring riches or cure disease. 

In Angola, the lack of adequate health care, the difficulties accessing education and employment, and social marginalisation mean many albinos have their sight and skincare conditions exacerbated unnecessarily.  In the rural areas of Angola, this often relegates albinos to live in destitution with very few options for employment or healthcare. (adapted from WHO, UNHCR Refworld Report,

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