The prevalence of albinism varies across the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), estimates vary from 1 in 5,000 to 1 in 15,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Europe and North America, 1 in 20,000 people have the condition according to the NGO Under The Same Sun (WHO: 2018). Albinism is a rare group of genetic disorders that cause the skin, hair, or eyes to have little or no colour.
Oculocutaneous albinism, OCA2, is the most common gene type of albinism inherited disorders amongst the African population of southern Africa. It occurs at a frequency of 1:4000.
Albinism is a genetic condition where people are born without the usual pigment (colour) in their bodies. Their bodies aren’t able to make a normal amount of melanin, the chemical that is responsible for eye, skin, and hair colour. So, most people with albinism have very pale skin, hair, and eyes. Albinism can affect people of all races, and there are different kinds of albinism.
(Dowshen: 2024). Except for eye problems, most people with albinism are just as healthy as anyone else. In very rare cases a person’s albinism is part of another condition that involves other health problems in addition to albinism. People with these types of albinism can have such health complications as bleeding, lung, bowel, and immune system problems.
The emotional and social impact of albinism on the individual
People with albinism are just like anyone else, with the same lifespan and ability to reach their goals. But living with any medical condition during the teen years can be difficult, and albinism is no exception.
Because the social scene can be more about fitting in than standing out, teens with albinism may face bullying or prejudice. Voicing any frustration or sadness to a family member or friend who understands can help. So can talking to a counsellor or therapist to get ideas on coping with the challenges that come up during the teen years.
Society’s attitudes about albinism have a tremendous influence on the person with albinism. These influences will vary from person to person and at different stages of life. Having albinism also has a tremendous emotional impact on the person which also vary from person to person and vary at different stages of life. It is in the balance and interplay between the external world and each individual’s internal response that a sense of self is born and sustained. Albinism is an important part of that sense of self.
Throughout the world, people have misconceptions about albinism, ranging from notions that people with albinism have magical powers to the belief that they are mentally challenged. Amongst African-Americans, a common myth is that babies with albinism result from a union between an African-American woman and a Caucasian man. Another common myth is that people with albinism must have red eyes. People with albinism usually have blue or grey eyes which sometimes appear reddish in certain types of light. Sometimes, myths are so widespread even the person with albinism believes them.
The media, including literature and film, have contributed to stereotypes of albinism. The character with albinism is often portrayed as villainous, deviant, supernatural or sadistic. Also, some news reports and encyclopedia articles have included false or incomplete information about albinism. It is difficult for the public to know what is true and untrue about albinism.
Considering the above information, it is imperative that health promotion programmes should inform the general public regarding albinism in an attempt to eliminate the misconception and stigma about this condition (National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH).