Albinism Should Not be a Limiting Factor
The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Department of Dermatology recently partook in an outreach initiative to raise awareness about albinism and skin care. This event was a joint initiative by the Albinism Society of KwaZulu-Natal, UKZN’s Department of Dermatology and Gagasi FM. The event, held at Durban City Hall, was attended by a large number of adults and children with albinism as well as their family members and friends.
The event was supported by Biersdorf and Galderma companies that sponsored sun protective hats and sunscreen products for those who attended the event.
During the event, dermatologists focused on skin care and protection against the sun as a means of preventing skin cancer.
Skin is classified as the largest body organ which protects against infections, sun damage, water loss, and aids with temperature regulation amongst other functions. Within the skin there are melanocytes which are the cells that produce the natural pigment “melanin” thus protecting our skin from the ultraviolet rays, which can cause many types of skin cancer.
‘Avoiding sun exposure is crucial in Skin Cancer Prevention, paying attention to early warning signs like red , itchy and blistering of the skin and attending your local skin clinic for regular six monthly skin checks so skin cancer can be picked up early is highly recommendable,’ expressed Dr Sishange, a Dermatologist based at the King Edward Hospital.
Albinism is an inherited condition where an individual is unable to produce normal colouring of the skin, hair, and eyes (due to the lack of melanin pigment). The condition can be limited to the eyes or may involve both the eyes and the skin. People with Albinism lack this pigment and therefore are susceptible to various types of skin cancer.
‘Patients with albinism have always been ostracized and not much is known and understood about albinism. As a Dermatology department we recognise the importance of increasing awareness and understanding about this genetic skin and eye condition so that we can fight against discrimination and stigmatization,’ said Professor Ncoza Dlova, Head of the UKZN’s Department of Dermatology.
Chairperson of Albinism Society of KwaZulu-Natal, and UKZN lecturer Bhekisa Maxwell Thabethe encouraged young people with albinism to excel in education and be comfortable in their skin. ‘People with albinism are capable of achieving anything they wish for or dream of in life and their skin condition should not be a limiting factor.’
Seventy-four-year-old Queen Kubheka from Dabeka Township said that the killing of people with albinism is inhumane and a barbaric act that has no place in a democratic society.
12 Facts to know about Albinism
- Albinism is not contagious.
- Albinism is an inherited condition. It is not passed through physical contact. Inherited conditions are due to variations in genes which determine our characteristics, such as pigmentation. Albinism requires two copies of an altered gene and for this reason if two people with albinism have children together, all their children will have albinism.
- People with Albinism are more likely to develop skin cancer.
- People with Albinism lack melanin pigment which protects the skin from sun damage and further development of skin cancers. This is why sun protection (clothes and hats that cover skin, avoiding sun, and sunscreen lotions) are extremely important.
- People with albinism have poor eyesight.
- Almost all people with albinism have some visual problems but these can be overcome with corrective lenses or adapted teaching techniques. People with albinism have exactly the same learning capacity and potential as everyone else.
- Albinism cuts across all races.
- Actually, albinism occurs in every ethnic group and all around the world. It even occurs in animals. Some areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa, have higher rates than others.
- It is important that healthcare workers do refer children with albinism to the nearest dermatology clinic from a very early age so that the parents can be educated on how to care for children with albinism. They should also be seen every six months for screening for skin cancer which will aid in early detection.
- Prevention in the forms of daily broad spectrum sunscreen use, protective clothing, hats and glasses and avoidance of the sun between 10h00-15h00 is crucial.
- Early visit to an eye specialist can also assist and avoid eye surgery if correction of the eye problems is attended to at an early stage.
- People with albinism are also advised to avoid intermarriages as this increases the chances of off-springs who also have Albinism.
The Department of Dermatology and the Albinism Society of KwaZulu-Natal plan to hold a second albinism awareness event in kwaDabeka Township in September.
Words by: Lihle Sosibo