The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health - Albinism: myths and reality

20 July, 2019

Dear HIFA and CHIFA colleagues,

We have previously discussed on HIFA and CHIFA the reports of murders and rape of children with albinism, apparently motivated by false beliefs. An editorial in this month's Lancet Child & Adolescent Health notes: 'Witchcraft-related beliefs have seen attacks, mutilations, and killings of people with albinism as some believe that their body parts bring good luck. Children are a specific target for this type of violence because the innocence of the victim is deemed to increase the potency of the talisman. In sub-Saharan Africa, there is also the belief that the ritual defilement and rape of girls with albinism can cure HIV/AIDS.'

Below are the citation and selected extracts.

CITATION: Editorial| volume 3, issue 8, p511, august 01, 2019

Albinism: myths and reality

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health

Published: June 26, 2019

DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(19)30206-8

Besides physical impairment, people with albinism suffer from stigma stemming from attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. Bullying of children with albinism owing to their appearance occurs all over the world, but people with albinism in sub-Saharan Africa are at particular risk. Witchcraft-related beliefs have seen attacks, mutilations, and killings of people with albinism as some believe that their body parts bring good luck. Children are a specific target for this type of violence because the innocence of the victim is deemed to increase the potency of the talisman. In sub-Saharan Africa, there is also the belief that the ritual defilement and rape of girls with albinism can cure HIV/AIDS. Inevitably, such persistent marginalisation and danger have a dramatic impact on the mental health of people with albinism.

Specific interventions to dispel existing myths about albinism and guarantee the safety and rights of people with the condition are urgently needed. The Regional Action Plan on albinism in Africa (2017–2021) [https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Albinism/Pages/AlbinismInAfrica.aspx] developed by East African governments, which outlines targets and responsibilities of government, communities, and families for protecting people with albinism and meeting their needs, is the first pan-African attempt to address the problem. The measures proposed in the plan include: training on albinism for midwives and health-care workers, including paediatricians, to provide correct information on the genetic nature of albinism, prevent infanticide, and empower families to take the necessary measures to address the risk of skin cancer and visual impairment; public education and awareness-raising campaigns with involvement of teachers, faith-based organisations and traditional healers through creative use of media; inclusion of people with albinism in social welfare schemes; provision of adaptive devices and vision support in schools; system-wide distribution of sun protection creams, and cancer and pre-cancer treatment at no cost; and review of the criminal law framework for adequacy in response to attacks and violations against people with albinism. However, both the report from Human Rights Watch and recent murders of children with albinism in Tanzania and Malawi indicate that despite this Regional Action Plan, children with albinism still face unacceptable threats and discrimination in their daily life.

It is time for all global citizens, including paediatricians, to actively engage in promoting a radical change in the culture around albinism—otherwise, we remain complicit in the persistent violation of the rights of children with albinism.

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Best wishes, Neil

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CHIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of the HIFA campaign (Healthcare Information For All) and assistant moderator of the CHIFA forum. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org