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03 Jul 2015

Albinos

Albinism : A group of inherited disorders characterised by little or no melanin production.

Animals that are completely white as a result of albinism or leucism are extremely rare in the wild, since their lack of camouflage colors makes them easy targets for predators. 

Albinism in humans is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. Albinism is associated with a number of vision defects, such as photophobia, nystagmus, and amblyopia. Lack of skin pigmentation makes for more susceptibility to sunburn and skin cancers. In rare cases such as Chédiak–Higashi syndrome, albinism may be associated with deficiencies in the transportation of melanin granules. This also affects essential granules present in immune cells leading to increased susceptibility to infection.

Albinism results from inheritance of recessive gene alleles and is known to affect all vertebrates, including humans. It is due to absence or defect of tyrosinase, a copper-containing enzyme involved in the production of melanin. It is the opposite of melanism. Unlike humans, other animals have multiple pigments and for these, albinism is considered to be a hereditary condition characterised by the absence of melanin in particular, in the eyes, skin, hair, scales, feathers or cuticle. While an organism with complete absence of melanin is called an albino an organism with only a diminished amount of melanin is described as leucistic or albinoid.  The term is from the Latin albus, "white".

Persecution of people with albinism (sometimes abbreviated PWA is based on the belief that certain body parts of albinistic people can transmit magical powers. Such superstition is present especially in some parts of the African Great Lakes region, it has been promulgated and exploited by witch doctors and others who use such body parts as ingredients in rituals, concoctions and potions with the claim that their magic will bring prosperity to the user (muti or medicine murder).

As a result, people with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered, and graves of albinos dug up and desecrated. At the same time, people with albinism have also been ostracised and even killed for exactly the opposite reason, because they are presumed to be cursed and bring bad luck. The persecutions of people with albinism take place mostly in Sub-Saharan African communities, especially among East Africans.

Albinism is a genetically inherited condition which is very rare and, worldwide, affects approximately one in twenty thousand people.  Although rare in the western world, albinism is quite common in sub-Saharan Africa, likely as a result of consanguinity.[3] Both parents, who may or may not be albinos themselves, must carry the gene if it is to be passed on to the child. Albinism occurs in both males and females and is not specific to any race or ethnic group. Statistics prove that fifty percent of albinistic people in Tanzania have a known albinistic relative, although very few understand or are educated about the medical and genetic causes of this condition. Many believe it is a punishment from God or bad luck, and that their "disease" could be contagious, which is often the view of even members of the medical and professional community. These misconceptions, coupled with the lack of education, are some of the key reasons that albinism is so heavily persecuted. This lack of knowledge about people with albinism means that folktales and superstition in the name of witchcraft take the place of medical and scientific facts in the minds of many native Africans, with and without albinism, which in turn has major effects on the social integration of albinistic people into African society. Ninety-eight percent of albinos die by the age of forty for reasons which could easily be prevented.

 

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