Namibia: Homeless and Living With Albinism

Markus Kalipi lives with albinism which has become a daunting and challenging task more so, because he is homeless.

Globally, despite the health challenges (low vision and skin cancer), persons living with albinism in Africa face stigma, discrimination, abuse, dehumanisation and sometimes brutal killings for rituals.

Kalipi feels discriminated against and unloved. He sleeps outside the cuca shops at Onawa, Oixu village, along the Okalongo-Outapi road in Omusati region.

The 2011 National Census of Namibia reported that there are 1 153 persons with albinism living in Namibia.

Kalipi told The Namibian that he came to the village as a cattle herder six years ago but got sickly and could not continue working.

He now needs a place of his own. His father died this year. He does not know whether he has any siblings as he has not met them and his mother reportedly lives in Angola. He came to Namibia with his father when the country got independence.

Aili Shaalukeni is the owner of the cuca shop where Kalipi sleeps at night. Shaalukeni alerted The Namibian about his living condition and hopes he gets help. She said he refused to be taken in and said he wants to live in his own space. Shaalukeni is mostly concerned over his damaged skin.

"He spends the day with us here [at the cuca shops] but at night we go back to our houses and he sleeps outside. One never knows what could happen to him at night. He feels discriminated against and unloved. He also does not eat everything we eat, so its really difficult to look after him," she said.

Although Kalipi gets a state pension of N$1 300 a month, which a friend collects on his behalf as he cannot walk long distances, it is difficult for him to handle his finances because he has no proper home or shelter.

"In 2011 I started getting sick and my employer relieved me of my duties of looking after his cattle. My skin started getting reddish and swelling at the joints. Walking became difficult as you can see I am unable to walk properly," he said while attempting to demonstrate his predicament. He falls back to his sitting position.

Kalipi said he has visited the Outapi District Hospital on numerous occasions and was given a special lotion to apply, but his condition did not improve, instead it only got worse.

He could, however, not provide The Namibian with his health passport, saying it was destroyed by animals, so this reporter could not establish what lotion he claims the hospital gave him.

Kalipi could also not tell his age as he does not have any national documents: "I know I am over 60 but I do not know my exact age. I have not seen the inside of a classroom".

Despite the challenges, the government is taking care of persons with albinism. The ministry of Health and Social Services also distributes free sunscreen cream to people with albinism. The cream is available at state hospitals and clinics throughout the country.

Kalipi said he received the sunscreen in the past, but is now unable to go to the hospital to collect it due to his inability to walk.

He is not registered for the state's monthly grant for all registered persons with albinism and only receives the basic pension grant.

"Also, the sunscreen alone does not help much because of the condition in which I live," he said. By now the flies keep landing on his lips and he waves them off but they can't keep away. His lips are cracked and peeling and they are bloody.

"The lice are eating up my skin slowly. Just look," he said as he pulled up his T-shirt.

The lice are moving around his body and he tries to beat them off. There are spots on his body which have turned pink after the lice have sucked blood from them. The skin is peeling off his arms and legs. The sweat from his head is a very yellowish liquid.

Two of his clothing pieces, a jacket and pants were hung on a nearby fence to get rid of the lice. His body odour was so strong that it invited more flies. The sun is burning. He is unbothered.

"I have probably given up on life. Unemployment and making somebody feel inadequate hurts. It is no wonder so many people struggle with their mental health as a result. I feel extremely isolated at the moment. I do not even know how I will make it to tomorrow, but I live each day as it comes," he said.

Kalipi said he feels left behind and it is hard for him to stay upbeat and positive when he spends an incredible amount of time alone and struggling.

Paulus Johannes, the chairman of the Namibia Albinism Sufferers Requiring Assistance (Sinasra) yesterday said Kalipi should visit the nearest hospital or clinic to get a referral letter from a doctor so that Sinasra can assist him.

Over the years, Sinasra, a non-profit voluntary organisation, has been donating protective clothing, sunscreen and distributing relevant information aimed at preventing sun-related cancer, its complications and early death, to members.

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