Mrs K was the headmistress of my primary school years back. She was well educated and a very intelligent woman. She had a very handsome husband who fit the description of tall, dark and handsome with five lovely children. Mrs K was tall, light skinned and beautiful. I noticed she had areas of wrinkled skin especially at the neck and other exposed parts of her skin. She also had dancing eyes balls and used glasses. Whenever she talked to me, I felt she was gazing into my soul.
Mrs K had the condition known as albinism. Albinism is simply the absence of skin colouring pigment called melanin in the body. Melanin is what gives us our skin colour. These days any one with such absence of skin colour is no longer called an albino; they are now called people living with albinism.
Sadly, a lot of them suffer stigmatization as a result of their skin colour and visual disturbances.
Albinism is due to contribution of a recessive gene from both parents to a child. So, it can be traced down the family tree. This means a couple don’t have to suffer from albinism before they can have a child with albinism.
People who have this condition, especially in Africa face a lot of psychosocial issues. Children are often bullied at school, avoided and called names because they look different and do not “fit in”. Adults also face social stigma. Many find it difficult to have friends, find employment and find a partner.This creates a lot of stress and it often leads to problems like low self-esteem, poor body image, loneliness and emotional instability.
Myths surround albinism and in some countries, those living with albinism are hunted down and murdered. Some others hide their children living with albinism. Albinism is not due to the sins of the parents. Albinism is not contagious and cannot be contacted by touching. Albinism does not have a cure. These children are normal. They are intelligent and may need help (prescription glasses) to see better.
In the eyes, those living with albinism commonly suffer three things:
1. Nystagmus which I call dancing eye balls
2. Photophobia which is sensitivity to light. While I was younger, it was said they see better at night
3. Myopia which is short sightedness.
If you have a child or a loved one living with albinism who has any of these eye conditions, do visit an ophthalmologist.
They are prone to skin cancer and develop wrinkling of the skin when it is exposed to the sun
Before stepping put everyday care for the skin following these steps:
1. Long sleeved clothes
2. Use of sunglasses
3. Use of sunscreen
N.B: Parents should endeavour to get long sleeved version of school uniforms for their children in liason with the school.
A person with albinism is just as human as every other person and should never be looked down upon or treated with less dignity. They deserve the same love, respect and kindness that every human should receive.
If you have always treated them with less kindness, you should make amends. You should also know that there’s nothing embarrassing or shameful in being a friend, relative or partner of someone with albinism. It’s definitely not degrading!
I love you, I love your health.
Your favourite family physician,