The Dangers of the Albinism Trait

It’s hard to be an optimist when you keep uncovering horror stories about the human race.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by a species that once believed in witchcraft, but it still can be shocking.

Recently while catching up on reading, I found an article entitled “The Perils of Pale” in the June 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.  In this case, pale refers to albinism, the condition in which little or none of the pigment melanin is formed in the skin, hair and/or eyes (http://www.albinism.org/site/c.flKYIdOUIhJ4H/b.9253761/k.24EE/Information_Bulletin__What_is_Albinism.htm ).  A recessive genetic trait, albinism occurs in all racial and ethnic groups.  The incidence of albinism in the worldwide population occurs in one out of every 40,000 people, but it is much more common in certain areas — one in 1400 in Tanzania and an unbelievable one in 70 on the San Blas Archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama.  In addition to an unusual appearance, people with the condition are vulnerable to cancer-causing sun damage and poor eyesight.

The condition subjects people with albinism to ostracism, ridicule, and worse.  In some African countries, myths from witch doctors claim their body parts have magical powers that can bring wealth and success.  Consequently, since their body parts can be sold for thousands of dollars, at least 190 people have been killed and 300 attacked since the 1990s; many have been segregated for their own safety.  What’s even worse, the conviction rate for attackers is very low.

Fortunately, there is an organization working to change their lives.  Under the Same Sun (http://www.underthesamesun.com/ ) is a Christian charity founded by Canadian businessman Peter Ash to help people with albinism overcome discrimination through education and advocacy.  So maybe there is reason to be optimistic after all.

The National Geographic article (if you have the stomach for it) can be found at  http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/06/albinism-health-genetics-society/.  Under the Same Sun does accept contributions.  The photo is from the article and depicts three generations of a family with albinism at a Hindu temple in Delhi, India.

 

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