This Sunday I learned that Tanzanian children born with albinism are targeted and killed by human poachers for their body parts. With tremendous strength, the victimized children overcome violence.
CBS News shared the story of five children who were fitted for new prosthetics at Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.
In the video below, you can see the devastation in the eyes of the children interviewed as they retell their horrific stories. The young boy, whose mother was repeatedly struck by the poachers, brought tears to my eyes. People with albinism (PWAs) are both feared and mystified by their community and human poachers. As a result, they experience discrimination and vicious attacks. As future medical professionals, we need to be aware of such social suffering and become patient advocates.
What is Albinism?
Albinism is an inherited disorder characterized by an abnormality of melanin synthesis. It results in the reduction or inactivity of tyrosinase (TYR gene) or P protein (chloride channel). This reduction/lack of activity causes a disruption of melanin synthesis and the production of melanin pigment. Categorized as either oculocutaneous albinism 1 (OCA1) or oculocutaneous albinism 2 (OCA2), individuals with albinism are at risk for a number of medical and social complications (Learn more about albinism on Medscape).
Albinism, particularly OCA2, is fairly common throughout Africa with high incidence in Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania. In Africa, the albino population faces discrimination and many are hunted by human poachers for their body parts which are used for rituals.
What is Poaching? Who are Human Poachers?
Poaching is illegal hunting of game and fish. Described by The Humane Society of the United States as a “crime against wildlife”, poachers travel to restricted property to hunt animals that are “off limits” to hunters. Poachers often hunt exotic or big game and sell the game or the hunting experience (Remember Cecil the Lion?).
A “human poacher” hunts humans instead of animals. They take human body parts and sell them on black markets or to witchdoctors. Some human poachers kill humans or rob grave sites.
Witchcraft & Albinism
Witchdoctors in Tanzania promoted the belief that the body parts of people with albinism (particularly children) brings wealth and good luck even though the people with albinism are shamed and regularly discriminated against. These beliefs fuel the human poachers and increase the discrimination against PWAs. However, these violent rituals are unjustified and have been outlawed in Tanzania. It is the hope of various organizations that advocate for people with albinism that these attacks and killings stop with community education on albinism and the promotion of PWAs in a positive light.
How Can You Get Involved?
As future medical professionals, you may meet patients from all walks of life especially if you are involved in missions dedicated to global medicine. Take the time to donate your support for organizations that advocate for individuals in need worldwide. The following organizations advocate for people with albinism:
- Under the Same Sun – organization that helps PWAs overcome discrimination through advocacy and community education.
- The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) – organization promotes acceptance, fellowship, and support of individuals with albinism in the United States and Canada.
- World Albinism Alliance (WAA) – Established in 2012, this organization unites Albinism Societies and organizations worldwide.
- Standing Voice – organization that promotes social inclusion and works to stop human rights violations against marginalized groups.
- The Salif Keita Foundation – Founded by Salif Keita, this organization promotes the awareness, rights, and welfare of individuals with albinism. Keita brings awareness to the high incidence of albinism in Africa and presents PWAs positively to discourage “superstition and ignorance”.
- The United Nations – international organization that promotes international cooperation.
- Global Medical Relief Fund – non-profit organization that aids children who are missing or have lost the use of limbs, eyes, etc. as a result of accident, violence, and/or war.
- Brilliant, M. H. “Albinism in Africa: a medical and social emergency”. International Health (2015). Vol 7, Issue 4. pp. 223-225. (Full-text)
- Through Albino Eyes: The Plight of Albino People in Africa’s Great Lakes Region and a Red Cross Response – Advocacy Report. (2009) (PDF)
Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.