WHAT CAUSES ALBINISM
Albinism is a genetically inherited condition in which the body is unable to create enough melanin (pigment) in the skin, hair and eyes. Albinism results in light skin, hair and eyes, usually in poor vision, and sometimes in poor hearing.
Both parents must carry the gene in order to have a child with albinism, although because it’s recessive both parents may be black. For examples, if a non-albino mother and father both have one mutated copy, the likelihood of albinism in a given child will be 25 percent.
Albinism is found in every country in the world, with an average rate of 1 in every 20,000 births, but the prevalence in Africa is much higher. While the data in Tanzania is inadequate, the rate seems close to 1 in 2,000; this is likely because of the genetic link. In a country of 59 million people, this means about 30,000 Tanzanians have albinism.
LIVING WITH ALBINISM IN TANZANIA
Facing constant danger
Albinism is found in every country in the world, although it is more common in Tanzania than anywhere else. In other countries the rate of albinism is 1 in every 20,000 births. While the data in Tanzania is inadequate, the rate seems close to 1 in 2,000; this is likely because of the genetic link. In a country of 59 million people, this means about 30,000 Tanzanians have albinism.
Life is harsh for many Africans with albinism. With light skin, hair and eyes, they look starkly different than their neighbors. The fact that they can be born to two black parents shocks friends and families, and myths develop to explain it. For centuries people with albinism have been stigmatized by society. Without understanding that it’s an inherited condition, superstitions have often filled the gap.
Perhaps nowhere in Africa is life as harsh as it is for Tanzanians with albinism. A child born with albinism is thought to be “a curse from God,” and in many places they are not even considered human beings. Fathers accuse mothers of having slept with a white man, or the ghost of a white man, and in most cases he abandons the family. People think albinism is contagious, so they don’t want to touch or even be around a person with albinism. Many people believe “Albinos don’t die, they just disappear.” People with albinism hear these myths, and without any real knowledge about their condition, may even believe them themselves.
In 2006 a new myth arose among those we might call witch doctors, “If you want to get wealthy quickly, you’ll need albino body parts.” As incredible as it seems, it was not a big leap from the supernatural qualities that had always been attributed to them. Also, for people in a country where the average income is $1.50 a day, the temptation is great. The UN determined that an albino body could be sold for $75,000, and a limb for about $15,000. The myth spread like wildfire, and people with albinism began to be hunted.
Since then, the killing of 76 people with albinism have been reported, as well as another 78 attacks, many of which include arms or legs being hacked off with machetes. There is no doubt the reality is underreported, as people often shy away from police, some of whom are taking bribes to look the other way. Even family members themselves have at times been responsible for providing access to the person with albinism, and so the pressure on other families is great not to report it.
Even if Tanzanians with albinism avoid violence, skin cancer kills 80%of them before the age of 30.
Martha Mganga on Albino Myths
"Sister" Martha Mganga travels across Tanzania educating communities and people with Albinism, disolving myths by explaining genetics and referring families to medical resources.
REPORTED ATTACKS OF PERSONS WITH ALBINISM
In Africa through 2015
Benin, 2 reports: 2 killings – Both in 2012
Botswana, 3 reports: 3 survivors – September, 1998
Burkina Faso, 9 reports: 2 killings / 6 survivors / 1 asylum - Most recent - August 14, 2012
Burundi, 35 reports: 18 killings / 13 survivors / 4 grave robbery - Most recent – Oct. 6, 2015
Cameroon, 10 report: 2 killings, 2 survivor, 5 asylums, 1 grave robbery - Most recent – June 7, 2014
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 60 reports: 14 killings / 31 survivors / 9 grave robberies / 6 asylums - Most recent – May, 2015
Egypt, 1 report: 1 asylum – September 16, 2011
Ghana, 3 report: 1 killing / 2 survivors – February 17, 2015
Guinea, 14 reports: 5 killings / 5 survivors / 4 asylums - Most recent – July 27, 2015
Ivory Coast, 26 reports: 7 killings / 11 survivors / 4 missing / 2 asylums / 2 abandoned - Most recent – July 12, 2015
Kenya, 13 reports: 5 killings / 8 survivors - Most recent – September 20, 2015
Malawi, 18 report: 5 killings / 10 survivors / 2 missing / 1 grave robbery – Most recent – Sept. 30, 2015
Mali, 14 report: 3 killings / 2 survivors / 2 missing / 7 asylums - Most recent - 2011
Mozambique, 5 reports: 2 murders, 2 survivors, 1 unknown status – Most recent – Sept. 17, 2015
Namibia, 3 reports: 2 killings / 1 survivor - Most recent - May 12, 2012
Niger, 1 report: 1 missing – August 6, 2012
Nigeria, 10 reports: 4 killings / 1 missing / 3 asylum / 1 kidnapping / 1 attempted kidnapping - Most recent December 13, 2014
Rwanda, 1 report: 1 grave robbery – July 2, 2013
Senegal, 9 report: 3 alleged killings / 4 survivors / 2 asylum - Most recent – June 17, 2015
South Africa, 5 reports: 2 killings / 1 missing / 1 survivor / 1 grave robbery - Most recent – August 5, 2015
Swaziland, 10 reports: 3 killings / 7 survivors - Most recent – September 26, 2015
Tanzania, 159 reports: 76 killings / 64 survivors / 1 abduction / 18 grave violations - Most recent – October 21, 2015
Uganda, 4 reports: 4 survivors – May 29, 2014
Zambia, 5 reports: 4 killings / 1 survivor – Most recent – May 26, 2015 Zimbabwe, 2 report: 1 killing 2011 / 1 asylum - November 29, 2012