Ignorance about albinism has made persons without melanin, also referred to as albinos to suffer unjustly in the hands of people who are not properly enlightened about this biological problem as they continue to have a misconception about albinos. GABRIEL EWEPU in this write up clears this perception.
In Africa, people attach superstitious beliefs to natural occurrences that are strange to them, and they attribute them to spiritual forces, especially when they cannot comprehend the happening with what is normal and known. They either say it is a bad or good omen which could be a blessing or curse to the individual or family. Most times they call for appeasing the gods responsible with some traditional rites.
Over two centuries ago, Africans were known for the killing of twin babies, because they believed that the woman has been cursed by the gods, therefore the babies should be killed. It was until some missionaries came and corrected that superstitious belief, which halted the barbaric act.
Some of these superstitious beliefs still exist in most African societies that have impacted negatively in the lives of those termed to be victims of misfortune. Unfortunately, albino people are found in this situation. This has made most of them to suffer unjustly as a sort of sacrificial lambs, which do not have value.
But it is as a result of ignorance and poor enlightenment amongst the people who discriminate and regard them as sub-humans. When people do not understand the natural alterations at the formative stage of babies in their mothers’ wombs will have negative perception about the colour some people are born with. This has made life difficult for the albino people in most African countries.
The ignorance of people about albinism has created a rift between the albino society and the ‘normal’ human beings. It has made them to be labeled with names such as ‘white’, curse from gods’, ‘bleached’ and ‘abnormal’.
It is imperative to let people understand that albinism is actually a genetic illness caused by lack of natural colouring pigments called melanin. It is the term used to describe a group of medical conditions that arise from a recessive genetic mutation. Even animals, this condition is seen ranging from rats to peacocks; all sharing a characteristic of colour leaving the organism ‘white’.
In humans, there are two main forms of albinism known as oculocutaneous and ocular albinism. The oculocutaneous type is more common than ocular albinism, and is characterized by a lack of pigmentation of the skin, hair, and eyes. Persons with ocular albinism usually have normal skin pigmentation but loss of melanin in the eyes.
The population of albinos in Nigeria stands at over 4 million. Out of this figure 2 million persons are with ocular albinism, while those with full albinism are over 2 million. Their total population is almost the population of some small African and European countries, and represents a significant number in a normal society.
The founder of The Albino Foundation (TAF), Mr Jake Epelle, lamented with a pitiable voice as he expressed the situation albino people are facing in Nigeria and the entire African continent, because government and civil society are not advocating the discrimination and unfair treatment the society is giving them.
Epelle said: “We are not recognized. We are not known. Nobody cares about us. I speak as a representative of the entire albinos in the country.” Many Nigerians, including the government have failed to adequately take care of albinos, thereby have become a vulnerable group of people. They are subjected to injustice and neglect, also excluded from some socio-economic benefits, and their rights infringed upon. Epelle said that, “Let me intimate all and sundry that albinism is not a curse, but a skin condition owing to the lack of melanin pigments.”
Mr Epelle has been calling on President Goodluck Jonathan to appoint members of the Foundation into sensitive government positions. He argues that this will add value to government policies, “because of their potentials to bring positive changes to the development of the nation.”
It is unfortunate, families where albinos are born discriminates them, and term them to be unusual children, whereby goes far as killing them at birth. Epelle frowned against the predicament albino people are subjected to as family members are not doing the right thing. “The discrimination starts from the family, where family members start all the teasing and taunting. By the time they go out into the society it gets worse,” said Epelle.
According to BBC reports, in Tanzania 26 albinos were killed under a year. Witchdoctors, who believe they use albino body parts to create potions to make people rich, are thought to be behind the bizarre killings. A 13-year-old boy, Adamu Robert was attacked, three of his right hand fingers were chopped and his shoulder wounded.
Mrs Uduak Chukwuma, a banker, said the society needs serious public enlightenment to reduce the discrimination the albinos are passing through. “Albinos suffer from social exclusion and stereotype cultural myths, stigmatization, and sometimes human rights abuse. In addition, there is poor national awareness that albinism is a hereditary condition and not a curse. The way out to tackle this social problem is albinos should be included in all every education policy. People should be adequately enlightened on what albinism is all about. Families with albino children should be educated on the possible way they should be cared for; providing them protective clothing and sun screening agents, correcting myopia, and should be assisted with indoor occupations. Early treatment of actinic Kerasotes and skin cancer will help many albinos to attain social acceptance and a ripe old age.”
Mr Chukwuma Ikegwani, a computer expert asserted that albinos are having the challenge of rejection and discrimination which has demoralized most of them. “The major problem of albinos in Nigeria is rejection and discrimination. The way forward is for the government, civil society, including the Albino Foundation to intensify public awareness and orientation; it will help clear the myth surrounding it.”
Mr Henry Bassey, a civil servant said albinos are wonderful people with high intelligence, but should be given their right place in the society as other citizens in the country. “I used to have an albino as my secondary school classmate. This guy was highly intelligent, and people always want to come close to him. He was lucky not to have his eyes affected. But what people were irritated about him was when he sustains injury on his skin, because it was like an eye sore, and it does not get healed in time. Well, I want the albino community to be united and to prove their god given talents. They should enlighten the people themselves about their peculiarities. Also the government should come up with legislations that will protect them.”