Being born without skin pigmentation in the U. S., a condition called albinism, does not usually shorten an individual’s lifespan. But in Tanzania, it can be a death sentence. While reporting in Tanzania this past fall as a fellow with the International Reporting Project, I spoke with several people with albinism and medical professionals who serve them. Those interviews detailed the daily precautions individuals with albinism must take, from never traveling alone to finding safe places to live and work. When I met 28-year-old Janet Anatoli in Dar es Salaam, sitting in the shade outside the building that houses the headquarters of the Tanzania Albino Society, she spoke to a small group of reporters about the harsh treatment she received as a child but also of a family and life that blossomed in her adulthood. Richard Costar, who works as a porter in a hotel elsewhere in the country, did not have as bright an outlook when I met with him one evening. He said that fears for his safety continue to hamper his daily actions (see my coverage here).
Under the hot sub-Saharan sun people with albinism are particularly vulnerable to sun damage and skin cancer, but other maladies associated with albinism, including impaired vision and hearing, can also plunge albinos into a cycle of poverty and stigmatization. Although Tanzania has enacted legislation to protect albinos from discrimination it does not appear to enforce these laws. On top of these issues, believers in witchcraft seek out the limbs, bones and hair of albinos for use in amulets said to bring wealth and power to their owners. The United Nations said in a recent report that more than 200 cases of attacks motivated by witchcraft were reported in 15 countries in the past 13 years, although many additional cases go unreported. The attacks in Tanzania have been particularly worrisome – four new attacks occurred this year over a 16-day span, prompting special mention from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
More to explore:
Witchcraft Trade, Skin Cancer Pose Serious Threats to Albinos in Tanzania (Scientific American)
What causes albinism? (Scientific American)
From the words of an albino, a brilliant blend of color (Scientific American)