Understanding albinism and how to take care of albinos in Nigeria

What is albinism?
Albiniѕm is аn inhеritеd condition marked bу low оr аbѕеnt mеlаnin рrоduсtiоn in thе skin, hair аnd eyes. Albiniѕm iѕ a rаrе соnditiоn with an estimated frеԛuеnсу оf 1 саѕе per 15,000 реорlе in аll rасеѕ. Thе сhаrасtеriѕtiс physical appearance iѕ duе tо a genetic dеfесt in еnzуmеѕ responsible for рrоduсing mеlаnin.

Melanin is that compound that gives our skin colour. It is a photoprotective pigment in the skin that absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun thereby preventing skin damage. Absence of melanin during foetal development prevents normal growth of the retina and nervous connection between the brain and eyes. Albinism is characterized by variation in hair or skin colour ranging from stark white to brown. They also have vision problems.

Albinism presents in several forms, it could affect the skin, hair and eyes alone or could affect only the eyes.

It is not their fault that they are albinos, anyone with the right parental genetic predisposition can inherit this tendency. Thus albinos are no different from you and I, apart from their striking physical features. Albinos are expected to have normal growth and intellectual development, the condition does not cause a delay in development nor mental retardation.

Albinos face a variety of health care issues, these range from mental health problems to ophthalmologic and dermatological problems.

They also face social issues from discrimination and stigma which affects their educational and job opportunities.

Mental health problems like anxiety and depression arise when albinos feel alienated due to difference in appearance from their families, peers and larger community, this is also compounded by other socio-medical problems.

Ophthalmological problems they face include reduced visual acuity, photophobia, transparent iris, ocular nystagmus and strabismus.

Since their skin has no melanin to protect from the sun, they develop sunburn easily, with other signs of skin aging and the most dreadful is their increased risk of having several types of skin cancers.

No cure for albinism exists, the goal of therapy is mainly prevention of skin diseases and management of ophthalmological and other issues.

Albinos need our love, understanding and even protection. They are always in need of sun protection in the form of sun hats, sunglasses, sun protective clothings and sunscreen lotions. Families with albino children need assurance that the defects are confined to the skin and eyes and with much care and support they will attain full lifespan and reach their full potential. They also need counselling on adequate sun protection and how to cope with their albino children.

A government welfare program to cater for their health and education needs is very necessary.

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