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Challenging misconceptions: 7 myths on albinism

Albinism is one of the least understood conditions around the world. People with albinism face a number of problems, discrimination and violence because of the lack of understanding of albinism. We look at 7 common myths surrounding albinism, and challenge these misconceptions.

Albinism is one of the least understood conditions around the world. People with albinism face a number of problems because of a lack of understanding of albinism.

Albinism is a rare, non-contagious and genetically inherited condition which occurs worldwide regardless of ethnicity or gender. It most commonly results in the lack of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes (oculocutaneous albinism).

There have been various human rights violations against persons with albinism owing to enduring and misleading misconceptions, and superstitious beliefs systems on albinism. People with albinism have been harassed, discriminated against, shunned, bullied, tormented, tortured and murdered in various parts of Africa.

There is limited knowledge and facts on albinism, and there is need to continue educating people on albinism to demystify and debunk deep-seated misconceptions and superstitious beliefs on the condition.

We look at 7 common myths surrounding albinism, and challenge these misconceptions

1. Albinism is a curse/bad omen or a punishment: There is a common belief that albinism is a curse from ancestors imposed on the family to atone for past wrongs. In fact, albinism is a hereditary genetic condition. Many people carry the recessive gene and the condition is not a curse. This myth has been spread by witchdoctors who pay huge amounts for body parts, which they falsely claim bring good luck, success, wealth and power.

Albinos are violently attacked in parts of East Africa for their body parts used in rituals to bring power and good luck Photo: AFP
Albinos are violently attacked in parts of East Africa for their body parts used in rituals to bring power and good luck Photo: AFP

2. The myth that sex with people with albinism is a cure for HIV/Aids: The false belief has resulted in the rape of women and girls with albinism in parts of Africa. People with albinism do not possess any special powers or healing powers. Any form of ritual rape or unprotected sex with women/girls with albinism can only lead to the further spread of HIV/Aids.

3. Albinism is contagious: People with albinism have been shunned and discriminated against based on the misconception that the condition is a sickness which is contagious. On the contrary, albinism is non-contagious, but it is a genetically inherited condition common across the  world regardless of ethnicity or gender.

4. People with albinism (children in particular) bring bad luck: There is superstitious misconception that the condition brings sickness or even death. The myth often leads to discrimination, and hatred towards people with albinism.

5.Women are often blamed after giving birth to children with albinism: There have been cases women get harassed, divorced by their husbands and shunned by families after giving birth to children with albinism. The women are sometimes accused of witchcraft. The misconception stems from lack of understanding of albinism and genetics. There is a lack of awareness that both parents can carry the gene and pass it onto their children.

6. People with albinism cannot have normal pigmented children: People with albinism can have normal pigmented children provided the partner is not a carrier of the same recessive gene for albinism (autosomal recessive inheritance pattern).

7. People with albinism are sterile. This is another unfounded belief: Albinism does not affect fertility and people with albinism are fertile and can have children like other people.

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