Overcoming the stigma of albinism in Zambia

Inverness County Cares (ICC) is a local charitable organization founded in 2012 and based in Inverness County with a mandate to assist children who are in desperate need. Their current project involves supporting two schools for albino and visually impaired students in Northern Zambia.

These children face many life challenges. They are constantly in fear for their lives because their bodies and body parts can be sold to witchdoctors for very large amounts of money. Because of the hopeless poverty in this country, many people are desperate enough to resort to murder to earn money in the marketing of albino body parts.

In addition to these dangers, they are often shunned by their families and the entire village because of witchcraft superstitions which lead people to believe that albinos are ghosts or enchanted. Paternity is often questioned especially in a community of colour, since they appear to be of a different race.

Albinism brings health problems that make life very difficult. Because of the lack of melanin, their eyes are very sensitive to light, they have poor depth perception, lazy eye (strabismus) and often are legally or completely blind. People with albinism have skin that is very sensitive to the sun. Sunburn is the most serious complication because it can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. A 2011 article published in the journal Dermatologic Clinics states: “Within Tanzania, less than 2 per cent of albino children were expected to reach 40 years of age.”

In order to protect persons with albinism from the sun’s UV rays sunglasses, protective clothing, hats and sunscreen are required. Some individuals may also need prescription eyeglasses to correct vision problems. Sunscreen is too expensive for many in sub Saharan Africa, forcing persons with albinism to stay in the shade or risk developing skin cancer. Albinism is a very misunderstood condition. There is a great need for education to destigmatize the condition, mitigate sun damage and correct public misconceptions.

With this appalling combination of circumstances, most persons with albinism avoid leaving their homes during the day and fear being abducted if they venture out at night. Taking into account all of these challenges, persons with albinism are forced to live a very isolated life.

Individuals who wish to donate can use the donate button on our Web site: http://invernesscountycares.com or send a cheque to Inverness County Cares, Box 99, Judique, NS, B0E 1P0. Tax receipts provided. For more information contact ICC members John Gillies at 902-787- 3441, John MacInnis at 902-787-2475 or Colleen MacDonald MacLeod at 902-787-2251.