Albinism, which affects as many as 1 in 1,400 people in Tanzania, is an inherited genetic condition that reduces the amount of melanin pigment formed in the skin, hair and/or eyes. It leads to poor vision and a predisposition for skin cancer. This cancer is said to be the silent killer for persons with albinism, reducing their life expectancy to only 40 years. Available figures currently conclude that 18,000 people are born with albinism in Tanzania.
Persons with Albinism (PWAs) in Africa also suffer from discrimination, superstition, poverty, human rights abuse, and protection issues, making them one of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities in the country. Since 2006, at least 73 PWA have been murdered because of superstition, while other cases of violations reported were 136. PWAs have been “hunted” by people who believe that albino body parts would bring them good luck.
“ADRA has been working with PWAs over the past four decades focusing mainly on education,” says James Bisheko, ADRA programs manager in Tanzania. “This new pilot project is a unique one and probably gives the most relief to the recipients. It’s about skin cancer prevention, detection, and treatment by the use of cryosurgery technology. Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen to remove pre-cancerous lesions from the skin of people with albinism before it develops into a cancer.
A large part of ADRA’s goal is to promote prevention by use of radio, public meetings and SMS messaging. ADRA is also coordinating efforts with the government’s Department of Dermatology and the Tanzania Albinism Society for community mobilization.
ADRA’s project started in January 2020 and has already assisted 290 people. Each person is screened and if needed, is treated for skin cancer. The recipients leave the education center with skin protection supplies, including sunscreen lotions and hats.