13 June 2018

Namibia: Cancer, Not Discrimination, Threatens Namibian Albinos

Photo: This Day
Children with albinism (file photo).

Windhoek — While today - International Albinism Awareness Day - the most attention is likely to be on averting the killings and persecution of people with albinism, for Namibia the priorities would be slightly different.

Namibia has the most albinos per capita in the world. The country, with a population of about 2.4 million people, has between 1,800 and 2,000 people living with the condition.

But concerns of Namibian albinos are slightly different from, for example, those in East Africa.

In countries like Tanzania, attacks against albinos are rife as their bodies are considered a prized asset on the so-called black market, where parts are sold for use in witchcraft rituals.

Namibia is considered to have some of the most progressive legislation and national policies safeguarding people with albinism.

The Namibian state provides disability grants to people living with albinism, in a quest to subsidise the upkeep that is required for albinos, whose cost for skin care, for instance, can be costly in a harsh and hot climate like Namibia's.

Namibia today observes International Albinism Awareness Day, held under the theme Albino Care, at the School of the Visually Impaired in Windhoek.

And while discrimination against people with albinism is decreasing in Namibia, the biggest threat to Namibian albinos is skin cancer. The general lack of education on caring for albino children has resulted in an increase of skin cancer-related admissions at Windhoek Central Hospital, according to Dr Peggy Emvula, a radiation oncologist at the Dr AB May Cancer Centre based at the hospital.

Not so long ago, about three children with albinism were admitted to hospital annually for skin cancer, but the most recent figures show that about seven children with albinism are now admitted annually, according to Emvula.

The problem is particularly serious in the northern parts of country, most notably in the two Kavango regions. "The problem is that parents do not pay special attention to these children," said Emvula.

The government disability grant to people with albinism is meant to assist with caring for such children in rural areas. "We appreciate our government for accepting us although in the beginning it was not easy," Joseph Ndinomupya, president of the Namibia Albino Association, told New Era from New York yesterday.

Ndinomupya was however disappointed that the social grants for people with albinism sometimes do not benefit the intended recipients.

"We had a complaint about a parent who was receiving the money on behalf of her daughter but the daughter did not benefit from the grant. We want the public to stop with this," said Ndinomupya.

The founder of Support in Namibia of Albinism Sufferers Requiring Assistance (SINASRA), Dr Peter Stoermer, said that discrimination against people with albinism is decreasing. It is estimated that there are at least 1,800 to 2,000 people with albinism in Namibia. "We have the most albino per capita in the world," added Stoermer.

In some cultures in Namibia, people with albinism are regarded as a curse while others are regarded as a blessing, Stoermer added.

"These are normal people and we have to educate society to treat them as such. Intellectually there is nothing wrong with them and there are studies to prove that people with albinism are just as intelligent as everyone else," said Stoermer.

Albinism is a genetic disorder that makes affected individuals unable to produce melanin, the natural pigment that gives colour to hair, skin, and eyes, and protects against the harmful effects of UV radiation.

Namibia

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