People with albinism often feel socially isolated and may be discriminated in many instances. Although, albinism most often goes unnoticed in Europe because of the skin colour, it is not entirely the same for people of African descent.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, albinos have been subjected to torture and inhumane treatment. Albinos are believed to be cursed and a sign of bad luck in the family. They are discriminated against even to the extent of murder and the desecration of their graves for their body parts. This is based on the belief across many African societies that albinos do not die and have super natural powers inherent in them. This belief system is propagated by witch doctors and soothsayers (seers) who claim to see magical powers hidden within certain body parts of albinos. It is believed these body parts bring about wealth, good fortune and above all protection. Guided by this, followers of traditional magic or religion who want to protect themselves from the evil mechanisms of their enemies-both known and unknown use all available means possible to murder albinos so that they can get these “precious” body parts to protect themselves and bring good luck to them at the same time. A growing trade in albino body parts is on the increase in several parts of Africa.
Albinism is a genetic defect or disorder that is inherited. This result in little or no production of the pigment called melanin. When this is absent, it creates pigmentation of the skin and hair colour as well the eyes. Severe sufferers thus cannot or have severe impairment of their vision during the day, especially with severe exposure to the sun; a situation that further labels them as witches or wizards and makes them vulnerable for physical and verbal abuse. Most albinos are susceptible to skin cancer when they are constantly exposed to the Ultra Violet (UV) rays of the sun. As an adaptative mechanism, many albinos prefer to stay indoors during the day and come out during the night to stroll but this situation only further creates suspicion and prejudice by many.
In Ghana, reported cases of albinos banned from entering the township of Bukruwa in the Eastern Region of Ghana has come into the limelight of the media recently. Elsewhere, in neighboring Nigeria, babies born with albinism are decapitated in certain parts of the country. Furthermore, children with albinism are forced out of school because of the derision and abuse they receive at the hands of their teachers or school mates. For other daring albino children who are able to attend school, often times are kept at the back of the classroom a worsening situation not so friendly for their short vision. Elsewhere in East Africa in Tanzania, older albino women are prime suspects of being witches. It is reported that the trade in albino body parts has become so common that things are taking a wicked twist and getting out of proportion. Some fishermen in Tanzania are said to have used albino hairs as baits in their fishing expedition across the Lake Victoria in Tanzania. Inspired by the recent “Africa investigates” story on Aljazeera, this article wants to call for the attention of policy makers and various stakeholders to step up action to protect people with albinism through awareness creation using education as a means of change. In addition, stakeholders and governments need to protect albinos through state policies. If measures are not taken early, thousands of albinos in Africa will go “missing”.