“Albinos in Cameroon have made progress in eroding the social stigma attached to albinism in Cameroon. Still, they say more still needs to be done to secure their rights as human beings when it comes to health care, education and employment.”– Global Press Institute
DOUALA, CAMEROON – Emmanuel Koum Dime is studying at the Higher Teachers Training College in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, to become a teacher. He is specializing in philosophy.
Dime, an albino, says his education signals how things are improving for albinos like him in Cameroon.
“We had so many difficulties: going to school, finding work, even in walking on the streets in society,” he says.
Dime says people tend to treat albinos with curiosity and disdain because of the difference in color of their white skin. But Dime says that albinos have grown assertive, have improved their self-esteem and have made their voices heard, thanks to the World Association for the Defense of the Interests and Solidarity of Albinos, ASMODISA, a Cameroon-based network of albinos who have banded together to advocate for their rights.
“I can say everything has changed because, nowadays, albinos have their rights, which are recognized,” says Dime, a member of ASMODISA. “Their rights are established and are also respected in our country.”
ASMODISA unites albinos from the 10 regions of Cameroon to address their needs through various initiatives. For example, ASMODISA organizes a one-week sensitization campaign every year in August to promote the main values of albinos, such as their determination to be the best they are capable of being and to dispel societal misconceptions that their skin color limits their abilities.
“Most people ignore many things about albinos, and we think they have to learn through us: who we are, what we are able to do, where we are coming from and that we are also human beings like them,” Dime says.
Besides creating awareness within the society, Dime says albinos also use the sensitization week to build the esteem of their members psychologically. He says they strive to reinforce that they are not as different as they often hear.
“We have to accept ourselves as we are, accept our nature and our personality as albinos,” Dime says.
Dime says albinos in Cameroon can overcome whatever challenges they face, as their status has already improved since the creation of the association in 1996.
For example, he says that, according to one myth in some parts of Africa, using albinos’ body parts during rituals brings wealth and good luck. He says this practice is not common these days in Cameroon, but that similar myths still exist.
“We’re still fighting against that domain of witchcraft, which is not so easy to overcome,” he says.
For example, he says that people in northern Cameroon used to believe that albinos brought ill omens to their families, so the families killed albino babies in the forest or behind their houses. But he says that, thanks to sensitization campaigns, this practice is now history as many people’s mentalities have changed.
Although albinos say their social status is improving, they still face various health issues because of their condition and look for medical assistance in order to receive the care they need. They say they have also enjoyed enhanced education and employment opportunities, but that more progress is needed. As government officials and certain doctors say they are doing what they can to ensure albinos the rights they deserve, albinos nationwide have joined forces to sensitize fellow residents to albinism and reduce the stigma attached to it.
Albinism, a recessive trait, refers to a group of inherited genetic conditions in which a person is not able to manufacture melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, says Dr. Samuel Ngwane, a dermatologist at a health clinic in Douala, Cameroon’s largest city. Because albinos can’t produce melanin in their blood, they have white skin, which creates difficulties for their eyes and skin, especially in direct sunlight.
By the age of 15, people receive the most sunlight they will ever get during their lifetime, Ngwane says. If an albino child isn’t protected from the sun during these early years, their skin becomes rough by age 20, and they start developing cancers of the face, the back and arms. Skin cancer is responsible for 70 percent of all deaths among albinos in Cameroon, according to ASMODISA.
Even though the situation for albinos in Cameroon is improving, they face major challenges daily. Because of their condition, they have special health care needs, which can be challenging to meet.
Patrice Mbogle is a civil engineering student at the Higher Institute of Technology and Industrial Design in Douala, the capital of Littoral province. He says he suffers from skin lesions – abnormalities or infected patches of skin – particularly on the areas that have been exposed to the sun. For treatment, his doctor prescribed antibiotics, including tablets and a cream for the lesions, which costs 26,500 francs XAF ($55 USD). His doctor told him to apply the cream for 10 days then schedule a follow-up appointment.
He also uses a medication every month that is imported from France and costs 12,000 francs XAF, the local currency here, ($25 USD) per tube. He must use it every two hours starting at 6 a.m. every day. But the cost of these medications is an issue for Mbogle and other albinos, as the average income in Cameroon is less than $2,000 per year according to UNICEF.
“It is very expensive. We struggle to have it because health is life,” he says.
He says he doesn’t expect the medications to be free but would appreciate some medical assistance. Click to read more
Source: Global Press Institute