Yaoundé — International Albinism Awareness Day on June 13 has been observed in Cameroon, with albinos asking for more government and community care and protection. Those living with this hereditary genetic condition that reduces melanin pigment in skin, hair and eyes, say stigma, violence, superstition and killing have greatly lessened, but abuses have not been eliminated.
One hundred and sixty albinos and their family members assembled at the World Association for Advocacy and Solidarity of Albinos office in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, to mark International Albinism Awareness Day.
Among them is 16-year-old albino Ronald Essi, who said he was abandoned because of his condition.
Essi said he wants to become a police officer to defend his country Cameroon and punish civilians who abuse albinos' rights. He said his mother abandoned him when he was two years old. He said his grandmother resisted family pressure to kill him. He said he has been living in the streets since 2015, when his grandmother died.
Essi said a Catholic priest rescued him from the street and sent him to a school in Yaoundé.
Essi is one of the about 2,200 albinos the government says live in Cameroon.
This year Cameroon reported that prejudice and discrimination against albinos in employment and social life had lowered drastically. The government said hunting down albinos for their body parts has been eliminated from many communities.
Witch doctors who claim that albinos bring wealth and good luck to people who have access to their body parts are disappearing. In many communities, albino babies are no longer considered signs of misfortune and buried alive or starved until they die.
Jean-Jacques Ndoudoumou, the founding president of the World Association for Advocacy and Solidarity of Albinos, says albinos are gradually being accepted by communities.
He said the association he leads is happy, as people are increasingly accepting albinos as normal human beings. He said many albinos have graduated from universities and are using the knowledge they acquire to contribute to developing Cameroon. He said complaints of stigma and violence on albinos have greatly declined and there are now marriages between albinos and people without the condition.
Ndoudoumou said his association has instructed all its members to continue teaching people albinos are normal human beings who need special assistance.
Gregoire Amindeh is member of The Association for the Promotion of the Rights of Albinos.
Amindeh said that although Cameroon's government has done a lot, albinos still urgently need special reading glasses and handheld magnifiers to stop their high school dropout rate from low vision. He said they need subsidies to be treated in hospitals since their skin is extremely sensitive to the sun and can develop cancer. He said skin cancers remain a major cause of death in African albinos.
Pauline Irene Nguene, Cameroon's minister of social affairs, says albinos are placed in the group of people with special protection needs. She said Cameroon ensures the socio-economic integration and protection of albinos, and immediately intervenes to protect albinos whenever cases of abuse are reported.
She said in 2020, staff of her ministry visited more than a hundred villages where abuses of the rights of albinos were reported. She said civilians in the villages were taught in their local languages to respect the health, education and social rights of albinos. She said the government has continued to lobby for private enterprises, schools and outside organizations not to reject albinos looking for positions in their institutions.
Nguene said 60 government offices created in Cameroon's administrative units receive complaints and immediately help albinos in need.
International Albinism Awareness Day is observed by the United Nations on June 13 every year. This year's theme, "Strength Beyond All Odds," according to the U.N. highlights the achievements of people with albinism all over the world.