What is Albinism? - The fear and threats of Albinos in Africa

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While I was going through a few articles, I accidentally came across this article that was published on National Geographic “Inside the lives of Albinos in Tanzania”, which left me heartbroken. So many evil things happen around this world, but not everyone is aware. What happens, where it happens and why it happens? Sometimes these questions remain a mystery. I quickly sat down to research about this.

This article is written to create an awareness of the threats and challenges these people are facing in a particular part of the world and to be honest, I myself do not know how I completed this hub, because it was so heart-breaking and painful to read, see and watch all those sufferings these people go through on a daily basis. It was quite challenging. Writing a hub on this issue, I thought will reach a few more audience who are unaware of these happenings. This will also help people reach out and support if possible in some way or the other.

Please correct me, if I have any wrong information here, or if there is anything here that is mentioned in an incorrect form.

The documentary “In the shadow of the Sun” by Harry Freeland, lets one feel the fear and pain that the albinos in Tanzania experience every single day. This documentary was shot over a period of four years and tells the story of two different members in the albino community.

Albinism

What is Albinism?

The word albino comes from the Latin word “Albus” which means “white”. Albinism, is a congenital pigment disorder that is characterised by complete or partial absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. It also has other names called achromia, achromasia or achromatosis. This is due to the absence of tyrosinase which is an enzyme that controls the rate of production of melanin. Albinism is found to affect all vertebrates including humans.

Vertebrate – Vertebrates are the most advanced organisms. They are animals that have a spinal cord, vertebrae, notochord and a brain. Vertebrates are mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and fish.

So before getting into the threats and fear these people suffer from, let us briefly look at the effects, signs, types and treatments available for albinism.

There are cells called melanocytes that produce a pigment called melanin, which gives colour to the skin and protects it from the harmful effects of Sun’s rays. When melanin is absent, it leads to albinism. Albinism can affect anyone regardless of gender or ethnicity.

Effects of Albinism:

  1. Vision defects like photophobia, nystagmus, astigmatism
  2. Lack of skin pigmentation which leads to sunburns and skin cancer and hence need to use sunscreen and protective clothing when outdoors
  3. Deficiency in transportation of melanin granules
  4. Susceptibility to infection because essential granules in immune cells are affected

An albino girl in Honduras
An albino girl in Honduras | Source

Signs of Albinism:

There are two types of albinism in humans

  1. Oculocutaneous – affects skin, hair and eyes. These humans appear white or pale to pink as the melanin pigments which are responsible for the skin colour is absent. Their hair can be either platinum colour or white and their eyes can have a pink to lavender colour. Melanin is also responsible for skin protection from Sun’s UV radiation, and hence the skin of these people can burn more easily.
  2. Ocular – Affects only the eyes. So these people will look normal in appearance but will have pale blue eyes. Diagnosis is done by genetic testing. In some people lack of pigment in eyes can lead to red or purple colour eyes which means the red coloured retina is visible through the iris due to less opacity resulting in problems with vision. The Iris lacks enough pigmentation that is necessary to block excess light. In some cases, hearing nerves may be affected and they may develop hearing problems.

Eyes of a person with complete OCA1 (Albinism)
Eyes of a person with complete OCA1 (Albinism) | Source

Visual problems:

The optical system in the eye is greatly dependant on the amount of melanin. If it is less or absent, it can lead to the following visual problems and eye conditions.

  1. Abnormal decussation of optic nerve fibres
  2. Photophobia - extreme sensitivity to light due to no or less pigment in Iris
  3. Macular or Foveal hypoplasia leading to retinal damage – affects central vision
  4. Nystagmus – irregular movement of eyes. It can be either circular or back and forth. Vision fluctuates and worsens when the person is stressed or tired. This is involuntary.
  5. Astigmatism – Irregular shaped cornea and hence will not be able to see things clearly
  6. Amblyopia – decrease in sharpness of vision due to poor transmission to brain
  7. Optic nerve misrouting – signals sent from retina to brain are misrouted
  8. Strabismus – Lack of eye alignment, which means the inability to use both eyes together. As a result eyes can either be crossed or deviate from the center.
  9. Farsightedness – Can see distant objects clearer but have difficulty seeing nearer ones
  10. Nearsightedness – Can see near objects clearer, but have difficulty seeing farther ones

 An albino girl from Papua New Guinea
An albino girl from Papua New Guinea | Source

Albinos are generally healthy like the rest of the population, with the only difference being high risk of skin cancer and other related problems. Albinism can be exhibited in off-springs who are born to parents with no albinism too, as these parents can have genes for albinism even without any symptoms or traits of albinism. A parent with no albinism and a parent with albinism do not necessarily need to have an offspring who has albinism. Albinism affects people of all backgrounds. One in 17000 people are affected by albinism and is the highest in the Sub Saharan descents in Africa.

Forms of albinism:

  • Hypomelanism (hypomelanosis) – partial lack of melanin
  • Amelanism (amelanosis) – total lack of melanin

Treatment:

  • Eye defects or conditions can be treated by surgeries on the ocular muscles. The effect of the surgery varies with individuals.
  • Albinos will require vision aids, large prints, bright reading lights, magnifiers, bifocals etc to aid reading.
  • They can wear protective lenses to reduce light sensitivity.

Deadly Hunt: Albinos in Tanzania

Threats:

  • Albinistic humans are victims of discrimination and violence in some parts of the world.
  • In some African countries, albinos are killed and their body parts are sold for witchcraft
  • National geographic estimates that in Tanzania, a complete set of Albino body parts is worth $75,000
  • People with albinism can go through emotional stress and difficulties when out in the public.
  • Some communities even believe that intercourse with an albinistic woman will cure a man of HIV (sources say that about 1.4 million Tanzanians have HIV)
  • Albino children face difficulties in completing education due to poor vision and feeble educational infrastructure. Also discrimination and discouragement from families and others leads them to growing up as illiterates and ending up in menial jobs.
  • Witch doctors earn a fortune selling potions made from the bones, hair and skin of Albinos. Miners (pour in ground to find minerals) and fisherman (pour in their canoe) use this believing that it will bring them wealth and luck.
  • Many families are split due to the fact that albinistic members are sent away from home to areas or centers of protection
  • There are many single mothers who have been abandoned by the fathers of Albinistic children, who accuse their wives of having affair with white men.

Under The Same Sun: Albino Killings in Tanzania

Listed below are information I gathered from across various sources, mainly news websites, journals and articles and are all related to the threats Albinos face in a particular part of the world.

  1. An albino child in Swaziland was grabbed and shot by a man while washing clothes and bathing in a river with her friends. Her body was found headless later on during the day by the river. Another eleven year old Albino girl was killed in the same spot and her hand removed. Police believe that they were murdered to be sold to the witch doctors who believe that blood and body parts of Albinos can bring luck and fortune when used in potions.
  2. An article published on wlrn.org in November 2012 states, life of Albinos is difficult in many parts of Africa, and is worse in Tanzania which has the highest rate of Albinos in the world (1 in every 1,400). It is believed that more than 100 Albinos have been attacked in Tanzania in the past six years where 71 died and 31 escaped. It is also believed that they are attacked and killed to be sold to the witch doctors. The government has now taken measures to protect Albinos. The documentary “Spell of the Albino” by film maker Claudio von Planta and various other activists have helped publicise this issue and Albino murders are decreasing.
  3. There is a story from India published in thesun.co.uk in March 2012, about the biggest Albino family in the world. They are a family of ten people who are in line for the Guinness world record. This family lives in Delhi and they all have pale skin, white hair and poor vision.

4. A few excerpts from a news in 2008 from the nytimes.com related to Albinos in Tanzania :

  • Discrimination against albinos is a serious issue throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and is the worst in Tanzania
  • Witch doctors are selling potions that contain skins, bones and hair of Albinos and are marketing them promising that it will make people rich
  • Police officers have details of Albinos in the country in order to protect them
  • Many Albino children drop out of school due to poor eyesight and they find it difficult to find a job due to discrimination.
  • There are non-profit groups in Tanzania who help the albinos in the society, but their services are restricted as they are operating on less than $15,000 a year, which is not sufficient to look after all their needs.
  • Fishermen have superstitious beliefs and they weave Albino hair on their nets, believing it will bring in more fish
  • People call the albinos “A deal” and attack them, kill them and sell their body parts to make money .

5. A news on igihe.com from January 2013 states that Ms Vicky Ntetema who works towards overcoming Albino killings in Tanzania still gets death threats from witch doctors.

6. An article from campusjournal.ug on October 2012 states that Albinos face many challenges apart from their vision and skin related issues, which are social and cultural threats, discrimination, violence, etc., as a result of which, certain communities kill them after birth to avoid discrimination. Those who manage to finish school despite all the discrimination face discrimination at work.

7. A news from bbc.co.uk in July 2008 states that a seven month old baby was mutilated on the orders of a witch doctor. People involved in albino killings are 173 so far in police custody and none have been prosecuted.

8. News on CNN.co.uk from October 2012 tells that Tanzanians hold strong belief in witch craft.

9. News from nbcnews.com from November 2009 states that a ten year old albino boy was beheaded. In 2007, 44 Albinos have been killed in Tanzania and at least 10,000 albinos have gone into hiding or to different parts of the country since the killings began.

10. According to the article published on National Geographic, there are hostels and boarding schools for Albino children where they are protected from hunters and witch doctors, but it is not a long-term safety measure.

The stories go on. There are hundreds of stories on the internet and there are documentaries that tell us about the life of albinos and the threats they face in their daily life

Diandra Forrest
Diandra Forrest | Source

While these threats and violence go around, there are and have been many famous people with albinism all around the world. And also a news from bbc.co.uk from October 2012 states that Albino models have set a trend for Africa.

US albino supermodel Diandra Forrest says that her presence in the Africa fashion week has greater significance than just beauty. Also International designers like to use Albino models.

Connie Chiu
Connie Chiu | Source

The information below is from infobarrel.com about some famous Albinos from all over the world.

  • Johny Winter – A Grammy Award-winning guitarist, singer and producer
  • Salif Keita - Internationally recognized afro-pop singer-songwriter
  • King Edward the Confessor of England - Last king of the House of Wessex
  • William Archibald Spooner - A famous Don who became prominent for his “spoonerisms
  • Emperor Seinei of Japan - Japan’s 22ndemperor
  • Connie Chiu - World’s first albino supermodel

More by this Author


Comments 44 comments

livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Fivesenses, thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I agree with you and the family in Delhi, I came to know through an article on a newspaper.

Have a good day :-)


fivesenses profile image

fivesenses 3 years ago from new delhi

Great info...just shows how flawed our world is and how people are still discriminated against...I never knew about the albino family of 10 in delhi though I am from delhi.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Colin, thank you so much. I am glad that you found this information interesting.

Thank you for kindly sharing this hub with your friends.

Sending you, Tiffy and Gabriel some smiles and blessings.

Have a great day!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 3 years ago

You have such an emotional and intellectual depth to your hubs and it makes you one of the truly great writers here on a world class level.

This particular subject is completely new to me so I was your willing student and I was educated and enlightened by what you wrote here.

I will share with much enthusiasm and pride on my FB wall in hopes you will gain more readership and I am sending to you my sincere warmest wishes and good energy from Colin and his cats Tiffy and Gabriel at lake erie time canada 5:53pm


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Gcrhoads64, oh gosh, I can understand. I wish to watch too, but it will be difficult and I am not sure about it. I hope this fear and threat just comes to an end. Thank you for stopping by. Hope you had a good week.


Gcrhoads64 profile image

Gcrhoads64 3 years ago from North Dakota

I saw the documentary about the murder of albino children and adults in Africa. It was heartbreaking.

Very well-researched and presented. ++


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Kathryn, thank you for reading. Yes it is sad to see what people do for money and the superstitious beliefs they have. Have a good day!


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Suzie, thank you for reading. As I have mentioned, it was heart-breaking to read about this cruelty and my hands were literally shaking as I was reading a few stories and watching some videos. I have not shared all of them here. This injustice needs to stop by all means. Thank you so much for sharing. Thank you for the votes too. Have a great day Suzie.


Kathryn Stratford profile image

Kathryn Stratford 3 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

I did not know about this at all. It is so sad, and it's disturbing that many of those people are so superstitious that they would kill someone for their beliefs. And for money. Thanks for sharing this with us.


Suzie HQ profile image

Suzie HQ 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

Hi livingsta,

What a very emotionally driven piece. I find it frightening that albinos are facing such cruelty in this world at the hands of man, or animals I should call them. Albinos are human beings and deserve to be treated like any person does. Well done on highlighting this great injustice in the world, particularly in the African continent.

Voted up, useful, Interesting, Shared!


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Rodric29, thank you for reading. I wasn't aware of this issue either, until I came across that article on national geographic. When I started reading about it, I just could not believe what was happening to the innocent people there. Thank you so much for the vote and share. Have a great week ahead!


Rodric29 profile image

Rodric29 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

I find this article very informative. I did not know that there was such a terrible issue with albino people. I knew that the rate of albinoism was higher in Africa than any other place, but not that such terrible things happened. Voted up and shared.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Rtalloni, thank you for reading and sharing your feelings and thoughts about this issue. I totally agree with what you say, and it is so sad and heart breaking to see things like these happen. Thank you again. I am hoping this will all come to an end soon and we can see a world which is harmonious.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

Situations like this are so incredibly, indescribably sad. When people say that one of the biggest problems with missionaries going into other cultures is that they take their civilized ideas with them and destroy the peoples' ancient ways of life I refer them to instances like this. Twins being killed because people were afraid of what their culture was steeped in, little girls being mutilated before their womanhood because of cultural practices, and on and on. Even in so-called civilized countries the hearts and minds of people still create prejudices and fears, per collegedad's comment above. Speaking up for the weaker among us is a responsibility we should not take lightly. Thanks for highlighting this difficult to face topic.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Iguidenetwork, thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. Yes it is a sad thing and hopefully this hub will create some sort of awareness. Thank you again. have a great day!


iguidenetwork profile image

iguidenetwork 3 years ago from Austin, TX

The fact that albino people people are killed for witchcraft in Africa is disturbing and really sad. They just look different but other than that they're not much more different than other so-called normal people. I hope this hub will raise such awareness for anyone or any organizations capable to protect them from discrimination and even crimes.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello Rajan, thank you for reading. I am glad you found it useful. I do understand what you have witnessed about the albinos and why they feel that way.

You have asked an interesting question here, which I should add to the hub. Thank you for prompting this Rajan. From research, it seems that the population in Tanzania have a large prevalence of the albino allele and hence the higher percentage of albinos there. Hope this has been helpful.

Thank you so much for the votes and share. Have a lovely weekend!


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Livingsta, this is a very informative hub. I feel sorry for the plight of these people but angry at those who perpetrate these atrocities on them. The society needs to protect them as well as educate the general public about this disease. I've seen a few albinos in my life and they appeared to me very reticent and unsure of themselves.

You have done a great service by spreading info on this very important subject. BTW, I wonder why Tanzania has such a high % of albinos.

Voted up, useful, interesting and shared.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello Marcy, it is heartbreaking. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts and feelings.


Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 3 years ago from Planet Earth

Such heartbreaking thoughts. Someday, in the eternities, people will pay dearly for their stupidity.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Vespawoolf, sure they are heartbreaking. I was horrified when I read that article. I am not sure either about how they are treated in Peru, but there are countries where they are looked at differently, which can create a confusion especially in the minds of little children. I am glad you liked this hub. Thank you for the vote and share!


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 3 years ago from Peru, South America

These stories are heartbreaking. It just goes to show what ignorance and superstition can do to society. This article interested me because on Saturday we were walking through a poor community in Peru and I spotted a little albino girl, about 6 years old, outside of her house. I don't know that the same type of superstition in Tanzania is present in Peru, but the little girl did look scared or unsure of herself. How sad that aside from the physical problems they can experience, albinos in Tanzania also fear for their lives. It's always good to be aware. Thank you. Voted up and shared.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Poojasd7, thank you for stopping by. I am not sure of your symptoms! I think you should speak to your doctor. I am sorry to hear that you are facing issues related to this. I can completely understand how you feel and this should not be happening.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Have a wonderful week ahead!


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello Torrilynn, thank you for reading. i am glad it was useful and thank you for the vote!


poojasd7 profile image

poojasd7 3 years ago from India

I don't know whether Leukodarma or Vitiligo means Albinism. But it also occurs due to absence of melanin pigment. I am suffering from Vitiligo(recently it has increased. previously it was in small amount). I can relate to some of the plights written in this hub. It's more to do with the psychology than any impediment in day-today activities. Facing the society without the glances of disgust or pity is very difficult especially in developing and underdeveloped countries, where the minds in general are underdeveloped.


torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

Hi livingsta,

I feel as a society that we fear people or things that

were are afraid of or don't necessarily are able to

comprehend who or what we see. thanks for the hub

and for spreading this message to others.

voted up.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Vinaya,

Thank you for reading and sharing your experience. I can understand your aunt's situation. Yes, many times Albinos are mistaken to be White.

Have a great weekend!


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Thelma,

Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts and experience. Also, thank you for the votes and share. I am sure this will stop soon. Have a good weekend!


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal

I have an aunt and uncle who have albinism. They are brother and sister. My uncle did not suffer any social problems, but aunt, being a woman, had too many problems because of her skin color. Their grandfather too had symptoms of albinism. During the British Raj in India, the old man was often mistaken as British, even though he did not speak good English.


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

Wow! This is a very informative and well researched hub. I have seen 1 albino in my life when I had a stop over in Cairo, Egypt airport 32 years ago. I was a bit scared but my hubby told me not to and told me how the albinos suffer due to this lack of pigment. Last year I have seen a report in German telly about the albinos in Tansania who were killed because of this witchcraft thing and some believe of ignorant people. I feel pity about them and I hope this killing will stop. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and shared.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Collegedad, thank you for reading and sharing your experience and thoughts. I am glad she had a good group of friends. I am sure you'll get in touch with her someday. This world is too small. Thank you for the appreciation. Have a good day!


collegedad profile image

collegedad 3 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

I went to college with a girl that displayed albinism. I was amazed at the fear that she generated in people. She was an incredible person yet was an object of ridicule. People can be so hateful! She quickly developed a core group of friends in her dorm. Friends that would eat you alive should you say something derogatory about her or to her. I often wonder where she went in life. How she handled the intolerant people she encountered.

Thanks for the great hub!


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you Ishwaryaa. I am glad it was useful. Thank you for your appreciation, votes and share.

Blessing to you.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Nyamache, yes, what you are saying is right. The government has taken measures, but not satisfactory ones. There are many organisations working for this threat to end. Let us pray that it all ends and the Albinos can get access to everything without any discrimination. Thank you for reading.

Blessings


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Dear Deergha, thank you. Yes it is a sad story, so heart breaking. Thank you for the votes and share.

Blessings to you


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Deborah, thank you. It did make me cry, I could not watch the videos and as I read more and more, it was heartbreaking to see what these beautiful innocent people were going through, but I did not want to give up as I was so concerned and wanted more people to know what was actually happening around.

Thank you for the share and for expressing your thoughts on this.

Blessings and peace.

Livingsta


ishwaryaa22 profile image

ishwaryaa22 3 years ago from Chennai, India

An informative yet sad hub! I learnt a lot from your hub. No badness should be done against these innocent people. Once again, a well-researched hub! Well-done!

Thanks for SHARING. Useful & Interesting. Voted up & shared


Nyamache profile image

Nyamache 3 years ago from Kenya

There should be no any discrimination since albinos are human beings. In countries where they are under threat the governments of such countries should act and protect them.


dghbrh profile image

dghbrh 3 years ago from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!!

Very informative and a well researched hub. Its very moving to know how they are discriminated when they are all so innocent. Heart ranching to see the humanity going for a flip. Votes all up excluding the funny part and I am sharing it too. God bless the innocent Albinoz.


Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 3 years ago from Brownsville,TX

Oh what a great hub. I can tell you did a lot of great research .. and I can understand you crying while you wrote it.. It is very sad and very interesting too.

many blessings to you.

sharing

Debbie


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Rosemay50, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts and experiences. I was totally shocked to read about what is happening in Tanzania. I am sure they are living a fearful life every single day and minute with all these attacks and threats going around. I hope that this cruel behaviour stops forever, and helps the Albinos live in total freedom.


Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 3 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

I went to school with an albino in the UK, she was a lovely girl. I have also seen those in Papua New Guinea, they don't seem to be in any danger there. It is absolutely shocking how they are treated in Tanzania.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you James-Wolve. I do wish this hub reaches as much audience as possible. This is the first time, I am reading about something like this and it was totally shocking. Thank you for stopping by, sharing your views and the vote. Have a good weekend!


James-wolve profile image

James-wolve 3 years ago from Morocco

Very interesting and informative.I wish this hub to be read by many.I read before something about them.They are in greatdanger.Governments should act and do something to protect them .What is happening in sub-Saharan Africa is crazy and crimes against humanity.I voted up.

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