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Simple hats assist in skin protection for people living with albinism

Stiefel announced over the weekend that the “Hats for Skin Health”, a global campaign with the International League of Dermatological Societies (ILDS) aims at helping albinos in East Africa and so far 2,000 hats have been distributed. It is estimated that 98 per cent of albino children will die before the age of 40 from cancer of the skin - a direct result of the sun’s powerful rays on their sensitive skin.

Worldwide, albinism on average affects about one in every 20,000 people. However the incidence of albinism in Sub-Saharan Africa is significantly higher than in the rest of the world, specifically in Tanzania where the incidence is one in 1,429 people.

Earlier this year, campaign leaders from Stiefel and ILDS visited Tanzania to introduce these user friendly hats to medical professionals attending the 17th International Conference of the Regional Dermatology Training Centre (RDTC).

The conference brought together more than 200 RDTC graduates and healthcare officers from across the African continent and the world for a series of training and presentations. Thousands of hats produced for the “Hats for Skin Health” campaign were given to the healthcare workers at the conference for distribution to albinos in their respective home regions.

“Ensuring that the hats were distributed through healthcare workers is crucial, as the health workers are on the front line treating skin conditions including treating people with albinism,” says Professor Roderick Hay, Chairman of the International Foundation for Dermatology (IFD). Since the launch of the “Hats For Skin Health” campaign last May, Stiefel has worked with Professor Hay and the ILDS and they identified a Tanzanian manufacturing company to produce the hats for the campaign.

The manufacturer selected by ILDS was specifically chosen because the company employs a diverse workforce including people with albinism, offering them the opportunity to work indoors away from the sun. The hats are sturdy enough for long-lasting use and feature a wide brim that offers protection to the face, neck and ears from the glare of the sun. Albinism is the absence of the pigment better known as melanin in the skin, hair and eyes, resulting in pale skin, light hair, pinkish eyes and impaired vision no matter the race of the person. Albinism is genetically passed on.

Melanin serves as the skin’s own natural protection against the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Without melanin, a person is predisposed to various types of solar skin damage, including aggressive forms of skin cancers. Physicians maintain that in Tanzania, 100 per cent of albinos show signs of sun damage to their skin within the first ten years of life and between the ages of 20-30 years, half end up with advanced skin cancers.

As a result, less than two per cent of albino children in the country reach their 40th birthday. Studies show they can live longer if measures are taken to protect their skin from the sun. There are many precautionary steps that can be taken to help prevent skin cancer, including health education about keeping away from the sun. Protection through use of sun block creams and skin coverage provided by clothing such as hats and long sleeved clothes.

In addition to support from ILDS, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has assisted the Hats For Skin Health from donations in the United States for the campaign. “By promoting the campaign’s fundraising success during the Academy’s 2012 Annual Meeting, we hope to inspire the wider dermatology community to support our efforts. We must arm healthcare professionals in sub-Saharan Africa with resources to help their patients with albinism better protect their skin,” says Mary Maloney, The Managing Director and Professor of Medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School.

She adds that as a member and former officer of the AAD, she is glad to see the Academy continue to increase its efforts to collaborate with other societies in support of worldwide initiatives with campaigns like Hats For Skin Health. AAD was founded in 1938, with vision to advancing the diagnosis, medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails.

According to Mehboob Champsi, Director of Gina Din Corporate Communications, handling the communication for the Hats for Skin Health Campaign, African living with albinism in general, have been victims of brutal attacks and murders based on myths and superstition. Since 2007, there have been more than 60 albino murders in Tanzania and Burundi alone.

Mr Champsi added that The International League of Dermatological Societies (ILDS) and Stiefel, started working together in 2007, when Stiefel financed construction of the Regional Dermatology Training Centre (RDTC) in Moshi The campaign is a welcome move that needs to be echoed by different stakeholders especially the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, in a bid to help Stiefel company to walk the talk.

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