Sept 2011

Fighting skin-deep prejudice

Cases have been reported of people with albinism being abducted, killed or being discriminated against because of their skin colour.

This happens because there are still many mistaken beliefs about albinism. But people with albinism are no different than anyone else and should to be treated with the same respect as everybody else. In South Africa, September is Albinism Awareness Month, during which the Department of Health provides information on albinism to make people more aware about this physical condition.

This is also an opportunity to draw attention to the contribution of people with albinism to our society and economy across a range of sectors.

What is albinism?

Albinism is an inherited condition. This means it is carried over from past generations by parents to their children. It is caused by a fault in the skin pigment or colour called melanin. This leads to a loss of colour in the skin, hair and eyes.

It happens when both parents carry one faulty and one normal gene. Genes are units in the body that parents pass to a baby before it is born. When a baby inherits two faulty genes, one from each parent, albinism is the result.

Some facts about Albinism
  • Albinism does not affect a person’s intelligence.
  • Albinism can cause problems with eyesight.
  • People with albinism are very sensitive to strong light and the sun.
How to prevent skin and eye problems
  • Avoid direct sun on the skin.
  • Protect the skin and eyes by wearing dark glasses, wide-rimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers.
  • Apply sunscreen lotion to areas of the skin that are in the sun.
  • Visit a skin specialist (a doctor who is an expert in the treatment of skin problems, also called a dermatologist) regularly, especially if you have sores that do not heal quickly.
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