Albinism In Nigeria: Causes, Prevention, Cure And Support

Actually, the increasing prevalence of albinism in Nigeria translates to a higher burden of this pigmentary disorder and its attendant complications such as photodermatoses (a skin disease that is caused by exposure to sunlight) and skin cancers, which affect the individuals and their loved ones medically, socially and psychologically.

Recent studies revealed that majority of persons with albinism in Nigeria suffer a high level of discrimination in the country and relatively few cases of attacks against persons with albinism have been reported.

And there is no doubt that many Nigerians with albinism live in poverty and cannot afford education and basic healthcare let alone making their voices heard.

However, before we continue in our discussion about albinism in Nigeria, one really needs to know what albinism is all about.

What Is Albinism?

Albinism consists of a group of inherited abnormalities of melanin synthesis. Melanin is a pigment in the skin, eyes and hair that protects us by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun to prevent skin damage. With exposure to the sun, the skin tans because melanin pigments increase in our skin.

In albinism, however, there is an inborn (or congenital) reduction or absence of melanin in the skin. In addition to the skin, melanin is important to other areas of the body, such as the eyes and brain. It is a lifelong condition and it occurs in other animals.

Albino raccoon
Albino raccoon

What Causes Albinism?

Albinism results from defective production of melanin from its constituent building block units. An error in a complex pathway leads to the low production of melanin or in some cases, no production at all.

Albinism is hereditary and the most common forms are autosomal recessive, which means that the genes responsible for its occurrence need to be present in both parents (carriers) who are typically not albinos themselves.

Are There Types Of Albinism?

Yes! There are different ways of classifying the different subtypes of albinism, some of which are based on one’s genetic code or DNA and the error leading to the reduction or absence of melanin. Broadly, albinism can:

  • Affect the eyes only, called Ocular albinism (OA). The skin and hair may be minimally lighter than the other members of the family but it is restricted to the eyes which are often bluish in colouration.
  • Affect the eyes and skin, called Oculocutaneous albinism (OCA).

Albinism may also affect the skin and other organ systems; including the brain and the nerves of the spinal cord. However, Oculocutaneous albinism (OCA) is the most common form of albinism both in Nigeria and the rest of the world.

ALSO READ:Is Sun  The Greatest Enemy To Albino Child?  

Who Is Affected?

Albinism affects around 1 in 20000 people across the globe and cultures with some areas having as many as 1 in 2000 people with albinism. It occurs in all races, occurs equally in men and women, and is present all over the world. It is typically discovered at infancy.

What Are The Features Seen In Albinism?

Albinism.pjg
Albinism.pjg

Patients with more severe forms of albinism with obvious skin manifestations are easier for a physician to diagnose compared with those with more subtle forms or those with ocular albinism.

The skin in albinos is often whitish, snow-white or cream-coloured. The hairs are often brown, yellowish or white and in some rare cases, red or platinum coloured. Skin symptoms include skin photosensitivity.

Due to the reduced availability of melanin pigments in the eyes, there are profound changes in the development of the optic system which leads to reduced visual acuity (vision problems), hypersensitivity to light, retinal pigment changes (that appears as red eyes in some people) and an involuntary rapid movement of the eyeballs (called nystagmus).

These changes are seen in virtually all cases of albinism.

Are There Health Interventions Or Cure For Albinos?

Albinism cannot be “CURED”. However, the effects of the reduced melanin production in the eyes, skin and hair does not cause general ill-health and as such, life is essentially normal for albinos.

However, the quality of life may be hampered by the severity of affectation of vision, skin photosensitivity, and increased risk of skin cancer.

Albinism also has social ramifications because patients may feel alienated as a result of the difference in appearance from their families, peers, and other members of their ethnic group. This can lead to questions about paternity, especially in coloured communities.

In some parts of the world or Nigeria and to some African countries, albinos are marginalised, ostracized, used for rituals and even victims of violent hate crimes.

Healthcare support is rendered via:

  • Low-vision aids: This is often via glasses or bifocal, based on the age of the patient and the degree of visual impairment (nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism).
  • Tinted glasses may be used to reduce photophobia. A cap or a visor may also help when going outdoors.
  • For the treatment of lazy or crossed eyes (or strabismus), it is preferred to start treatment at infancy with eye patches and/or glasses for correction.
  • Regular ophthalmology review is also necessary to prevent ocular complications.
  • Patients will also benefit from the use of sunscreen when going outdoors as it reduces the exposure of the skin to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight leads to the development of skin cancers.

Prevention Of Albinism

Like earlier mentioned, there is no current cure for albinism that exists. The goal of therapy is mainly prevention of skin diseases and management of ophthalmological (a branch of medicine and surgery which deals with the diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders) and other issues.

How Can We Support Albinos?

Saraki-lead Albino people
Saraki-lead Albino people

Remember that albinos are human beings like us and therefore, they need our love, understanding and even protection & support. They are always in need of sun protection in the form of sun hats, sunglasses, sun protective clothings and sunscreen lotions.

Families with albino children need assurance that the defects are confined to the skin and eyes and with much care and support they will attain full lifespan and reach their full potential.

They also need counselling on adequate sun protection and how to cope with their albino children.

According to a 2018 demographic, geographic and socioeconomic survey of persons with albinism in Nigeria, conducted by The Albino Foundation in 2018 with the support of the EU, there’s currently no known government welfare program to cater to the health and education needs of persons with albinism.

However, government welfare program to cater for their health and education needs is very necessary and should be implemented.

 

 

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