Albinism is a unique but unusual condition and social attitudes towards albinism are similar to those experienced by people who have disability. In East Africa, having those unique looks is almost a death sentence. Albinos are hunted at night and burned at daylight. In Tanzania, one out of 1,400 people have albinism, which makes them excellent targets as a human sacrifice. Since 2006, more than 100 albinos were attacked, and 71 have already died.
Albinism is an inherited condition characterized by partial or complete production of melanin in the skin, eyes, and hair. Although it is found in humans, it can also affect mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. It can affect anyone in the world regardless of race. Most cases of albinism in humans indicate that there is no family history to predispose a person. Persons with the condition may have lung and ocular issues, as well as susceptibility to cancer due to frequent and lingering exposure to the sunlight. Often called hypo pigmentation, the National Organization for Albinism reports that in the United States alone, one in every 17, 000 people have albinism.
Symptoms of Albinism
The partial or complete absence of pigmentation can occur in the hair, skin (oculocutaneous) or (ocular) eyes. A person with complete absence of pigment is called albino, while a partial loss of pigment is albanoid. People affected by the condition have very pale, light eyes, and fair hair and some may have red, purple, or blue eyes, although the pigment in the eyes varies. The loss of pigment causes the blood vessels to show through the iris, which explains their eyes. People with the condition are generally healthy; however, some may have skin and vision problems.
The vision problem is a result of uncharacteristic development of the retina and irregular patterns of nerve connections between the eye and the brain. It impedes the development of the eyes. This explains why persons with albinism generally have low vision or suffer from eye problems, although it does not have a connection with photosensitivity. The skin problems, on the other hand, can suffer from sunburn more quickly than those with normal skin. They should avoid skin damage by applying sunscreen or wearing loose fitting shirts and hats when going out in the sun.
What causes albinism?
Albinism is a unique but unusual condition, but it is not a disease but rather due to the mutation of the genes. Scientists discovered different genes are located on the (autosomal) chromosomes or autosomes containing the genes that dictate general body characteristics. It can be inherited from the father and the mother. Albinism is often called a recessive inheritance because even if a person is unaffected by the mutated genes, he or she is still a carrier of the trait and can pass it to another generation. This means that in order for a person to develop albinism, he or she must carry complete defective genes from the previous generations.
There is no cure for albinism yet, and albinos can have a normal life span. However, in some rare cases, other types of albinism can be life threatening if a person’s condition is associated with Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome that can cause serious lung disorder. Albinos living in the tropical settings may develop skin cancers and melanoma.
Scientists are still doing a great deal of study to know more about the condition. Albinos experience risk of social isolation, mockery, prejudice, and discrimination, and some were victims of fear, and violence. Many children and adults were subjects of ridicule, exclusion, abandonment, and bullying.
According to UNICEF, many children born with the condition often are routinely denied education, rights to health, security freedom, education, the right to life and social services. The agency also reports that many mothers and children are ostracized and banished where color is a huge issue in many countries in Africa. They were accused of witchcraft and bigotry, and the children suffered more than their parents.
It is important that the family has explicit knowledge about albinism to help them face some unpleasant examples they know about albinism. New parents need time to understand the condition of their child and siblings need to understand why their sister or brother is unique. However, there is no greater power than a family helping their child to accept that while other people may consider albinism as unusual, he is unique in their eyes.
Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas