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Albinos are normal human beings

Albinos are normal human beings


I come from a family where albinism is not uncommon from my mother side and my father side. My two young sisters are Albinos. One died of heart disease (cardiomyopathy) twelve years ago, but she survived skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma).

She was also cured of grandmal epilepsy (severe form of epilepsy). She delivered two children, a boy and a girl, and are all of normal skin texture, with no traces of albinism. My other sister has normal children and delivered twins twice. I am portraying this information and image to tell all readers that albinos are just like any other human being. The only snag is the lack of melanin, and they normally cannot tolerate exposure to the sun.

They should not be regarded as extra-ordinary or special human beings who can bring about luck, prosperity or wealth under any circumstances. If that was the case, then I would have benefited more than anyone else. I would already be much richer than Bill and Melinda Gates and would have owned Buzwagi gold mines. Myths have spread around among some communities that Albinos do not die, they just disappear and no-one knows where they disappear to.

Get the message from me. My sister died of a natural cause of death (heart disease). She suffered from cancer and delivered normal children. Her children are healthy and have no traces of albinism. The Sangomas in Tanzania are now going beyond human imagination to ask those who want to get rich, or aspire for anything greater and the like, so they advice them to bring body parts of albinos!

There is no geological or scientific report of a place that was prospected by using albino body parts or organs to strike gold or diamond. People need to go back to school to learn about albinism and or albinos.  We need to protect the albinos. They are human beings like any other person. It is the lack of melanin (the black pigment) and the nystagmus (quick rolling of the eyes) that distinguishes them from other people.

We should not kill them for prospecting gold or for any income generating activity. I would have been a business tycoon and much richer if that was the case. I would have trained my two sisters to be geologists, but I trained them as Maternal Child Health Aides, to work indoors and protect themselves from sun burn.

We need to condemn the killings of Albinos for obtaining their body parts and the exhumation (grave diggings) of an albino who died and body stolen from the grave in Kagera, some ten years back. I remember the late Mwalimu Nyerere who said: ‘If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Some communities know the albino killers in their midst.  But for how long will this continue in and around in our country, especially in the Lake Zone?

There had a sigh of relief when I read that the killings are now coming down.  In another development, sad stories are reported of children who disappear mysteriously. Where are these children disappearing to? They are not Albinos.  Albinism is a genetic disorder characterized by lack of the pigment melanin that gives colour to the skin, hair and eyes. Albinism occurs in all races including the Europeans (Wazungu). There are albinos among the Wazungu.

No research has ever been done to confirm that albinos could be used in locating underground deposits of gold, diamonds or oil. Affected individuals (albinos) suffer visual problems and a tendency to have skin cancers. Disorders affecting the eyes and the skin (oculocutaneous albinism) the most common type, the hair, the skin and eyes are all affected. In a severe form of oculocutaneous albinism, the skin and hair are snowy white throughout life (although the tips of the hairs may turn slightly yellow with age).

In a less severe form, the skin and hair are white and the irises are almost transparent at birth, but all darken slightly with age and numerous freckles develop on parts of the skin exposed to the sun. In both forms, the eyes are affected by photophobia (intolerance to bright light) nystagmus (abnormal flickering movements), and commonly by squint and myopia (shortsightedness).

The genetic defect results in deficiency of a specific enzyme; this deficiency interferes with melanin production in affected tissues. Oculocutaneous albinism shows an autosomal recessive pattern of inheritance, in which there is a one in four chance of a child being affected if both parents have normal skin colouring but carry the gene defect.

The overall prevalence of oculocutaneous albinism is low in Europe and North America --fewer than five people per 100,000, are affected. The prevalence varies in different ethnic groups (e.g. it is higher in the Ibo population in Nigeria). We need to ask our colleagues in Nigeria if they are also killing their albinos when prospecting for gold.

The two major complications are skin cancers (squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma) and visual problems like photophobia and nystagmus. There is need to protect albinos to put on suitable protective clothing and apply special oil that can prevent sun radiation (ultra violet radiation) in sunny climates. Spectacles are needed preferably tinted to help reduce photophobia (fear of light).

Mwandishi: Dr Ali Mzige

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