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Albinos in Malawi are hunted for their body parts. This is one sad news heard from the warm heart of Africa in recent years. Why are there so many albinos in Malawi? Why are there so many albinos in Africa? Firstly let’s acknowledge that there are albinos in Malawi as well as in all parts of the world. The inherited rare disease which affects the eyes and skin among others is not restricted to any geographical location or race.
There are so many albinos in Malawi the warm heart of Africa. Approximately 10000 people live with albinism in Malawi. Malawi is part of the Sub-Saharan Africa which has the highest number albinos. However, it is not clear why there are so many albinos in Sub-Saharan Africa than in other regions of the worlds. Statistics indicates that albinism affects 1 in 5000 in Sub-Saharan Africa. But Tanzania is the country with the highest number of albinos in Africa.
WHAT IS ALBINISM?
The term “albino” has historically been used in a critical manner, so “person with albinism” is preferred when referring to people with albinism. “Albino” also defines a person by his appearance. Albinism is a congenital disorder that results in a lack of pigmentation (known as melanin) that gives colour to hair, skin and eyes.
Other conditions associated with albinism include vulnerability to bright light, which can cause legal blindness. Because their skin is particularly vulnerable to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, people with albinism can also be predisposed to skin cancer and lesions.
WHAT CAUSES ALBINISM?
Albinism is caused by a recessive gene, meaning both parents must carry the gene for it to be passed on. The parents themselves do not need to show albinism.
Many children with albinism have blue or brown eyes. Sometimes, the eyes might seem pink or reddish, and that is a result of the iris having very little color. Albinism is a lifelong condition and does not cause intellectual disabilities.
Children with albinism usually have normal intelligence but their poor health and poor vision can often result in persons with albinism abandoning schooling.
People with albinism are considered legally blind because their photoreceptors (or cells in the retina that detect light) are unable to adequately convert light into clear signals to the brain.
As a result, persons with albinism have a condition called
nystagmus. This is when the eyes continuously flutter. They may also have problems with reduced depth perception and with tracking an object with their eyes.
TYPES OF ALBINOS
There are five genetic types of albinism, the most common being oculocutaneous (“oculo” meaning eye and “cutaneous” meaning skin) type 1 (OCA1) and type 2 (OCA2).
MALAWI ALBINOS HUNTED!! FIND OUT WHY?
The attacks and grave robberies are fueled by myths that albino body parts hold special powers that bring wealth and success, or even contain gold. The bones are allegedly sold to witch doctors for use in potions. According to Dr. Mary Shawa it is clear the rise in cases is because of myths and beliefs that are coming from elsewhere. She further noted that majority of people demanding albino body parts are witch doctors who are not Malawians.
Again, there is also a myth that sleeping with people with albinism can cure HIV/AIDS.
An amnesty international report agrees that people hunt albinos for their body parts because mistaken beliefs, superstition and magic. For example the report alleges that in Malawi some people believe bones of people with albinism contain gold. As a result albinos are hunted in Malawi for their bones which they are alleged to sell in the neighboring Mozambique and Tanzania.
FIGHTING AGAINST KILLING OF PEOPLE WITH ALBINISM IN MALAWI
In April 2018, President Peter Mutharika considered death penalty for albino killers. The statement came after the murder of McDonald Masambuka in Mangochi by people who include a Police Officer and a faith leader.
Furthermore, the President of Malawi also called on all stakeholders to help Malawi government in assessing interventions that were previously used to curtail the violence targeting people with albinism.
As a way of showing strong resistance against attacks of people with albinism in the country, different local celebrities such as musicians and poets in Malawi have come together for uncountable several times with well put verses and stanzas which defend the rights of people with albinism.
On 22 June 2016, hundreds of people joined parliamentarian for Mulanje South, Bon Kalindo, in a historical half-naked protests march in Lilongwe to force Parliament to make death penalty on people found guilty of abducting or killing people with albinism.
The Association of persons with albinism in Malawi is also another organization that plays a central role in the fight for protection of people with albinism in Malawi. The organization has always expressed concern with the situation in which Malawi albinos are hunted.
PROBLEMS AFFECTING ALBINOS IN MALAWI
Since January in 2017, there have been 17 recorded murders of people with albinism in Malawi, and 66 cases of abductions and other related crimes. Albinism affects roughly one in 17 000 people globally, but in sub-Saharan Africa the incidence is higher than, typically as common as 1 in 5 000 in Tanzania.
Malawi Albinos Are Hunted For Their Body Parts By Relatives And Strangers
About 10 000 people live with albinism in Malawi and so far more than 115 albinos have been killed in Malawi (Amnesty international). Shockingly it is found that in some cases the killings of people with albinism in Malawi involves relatives of the victims. Such being the case people with albinism constantly live in fear.
People with albinism are living in fear of attack; no matter how socially connected one is since there have been a lot of cases where most of them have been hunted down like animals.
For example, a student with albinism went missing in Zomba on 18th October 2016. He was a form one student with albinism at Masongola Secondary School in the eastern city of Zomba. This Deputy Headmaster of the school, John Mphedwa confirmed that the student Overton Mike was last seen with his friends at Matawale Township in the same city before missing.
People with albinism in Malawi often experience taunting and discrimination. Sometimes they are accused of being “ghosts” or “witches” or derided in other ways for somehow being ‘less than human’. Some people discriminate against albinos in Malawi because they believe albinos are “cursed” by the “gods”. Furthermore, they are called offensive terms such as “napweli”, “money” and “deal”.
Vulnerability to contact cancer
According to a 2014 study, people with albinism in Africa are 1,000 times more likely to get skin cancer than others.
WHAT MALAWIANS MUST DO TO PREVENT FURTHER KILLINGS OF PEOPLE WITH ALBINISM
Malawian police need more resources and must conduct thorough and effective investigations to bring the abductions and killings to an end. Visible policing in rural areas coupled with an effective public education campaigns can contribute much in arresting the problem.
Speaking in Kasungu during prayers held for God’s mercy over the attacks grounds on a Sunday, President of the Association of persons with albinism in Malawi Boniface Massah said Malawians need to stop stigma to make sure the malpractice dies a natural death. Massah also pleaded with Malawians to work together on the matter.
Lastly, Malawi need to check its policies and show the root causes of the crimes against people with albinism. Government of Malawi has since welcomed Amnesty International’s recommendations to ensure safety for the vulnerable group in the country.
Written by Lonjezo Idrissa and Chimwemwe Nuka