By Annines Angula
Windhoek – People with albinism face multiple forms of discrimination worldwide, as albinism is still profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically. The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition, which foster their marginalisation and social exclusion. This leads to various forms of stigma and discrimination, according to UN.
In some communities, these erroneous beliefs and myths, heavily influenced by superstition, put the security and lives of persons with albinism at constant risk. These beliefs and myths are centuries old and are present in cultural attitudes and practices around the world.
Namibia, like other countries, also grapples with misconceptions associated with albinism. However, the southern African country with one of the largest populations of persons with albinism in Africa has made commendable efforts in providing them with care and protection.
However, there are many misconceptions associated with albinism and much still needs to be done to deal with societal challenges regarding the condition, according to Sovita Joshua, a 30-year-old gospel singer, who is living with albinism.
“Most discrimination comes during the early stages. As I was growing up, people would call me ugly names in the streets. People will do things they don’t want to do because of the beliefs they have or heard. Most people still believe that if you did greet an albino person, chances of you giving birth to a child with albinism is very high,” she told The Southern Times.
Except for only a few exceptions, Joshua believes that persons with albinism in Namibia live in poverty and cannot afford the care needed to protect themselves against over-exposure to the sun and resultant cancerous lesions, which appears on the skin.
“People with albinism are still looked down upon. The society still thinks we are weak, that we are fragile. But it is only our skin condition that lacks melanin,” she said.
Tove Jeomba Kangoute (24), a media studies and English graduate from the University of Namibia, emphasised that albinism is not a disease “yet people think they have to be treating them with so much care”. “People don’t understand albinism as a whole.
People still ask if it’s alright to call me an albino, whether it is offensive. There’s quite a lack of information about albinism in Namibia. We are still having people with different stereotypes against us,” he said.
Apart from discrimination and stigmatisation that people with albinism face in the country, Kangoute said he is fortunate to leave in a peaceful society, unlike his counterparts in other parts of Africa were persons with albinism are hunted and killed for their body parts to be used in rituals and other black magic due to myths.
Kangoute has called for concerted efforts to create campaigns and public discussions to address misconception surrounding albinism. “More awareness should be done to educate the society on how to address people with albinism and understand that albinism is actually not a disease but a genetic disorder,” he said.
Despite challenges, the Namibian government is taking care of persons with albinism. Apart from the state’s monthly grant for all registered persons with albinisms, the Ministry of Health and Social Services also provides free sun block cream to people with albinism. The cream is available at state hospitals and clinics throughout the country.
Welfare organisations such as the Namibia Albino Association continue to raise awareness to debunk myths around albinism. Over the years, non-profit voluntary organisation, SINASRA has been donating protective clothing, sunscreen and distributing relevant information aimed at preventing sun-related cancer, its complications and early death.
Namibia joined the rest of the world commemorate this year’s International Albinism Awareness Day on June 13 under the theme: “Shining our light to the world”. The day is celebrated annually to advocate for the plight of persons living with albinism and celebrate their remarkable contributions. The World Albinism Day was proclaimed in 2015 following a resolution 23/13 of 13 June 2013 by the United Nations Human Rights Council on attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism. It was adopted by the by the General Assembly in December 2014.