SOURCE: Canadian Dermatology Association

June 08, 2015 07:00 ET

World's Dermatologists Call for End to Stigmatization and Violence Against People With Albinism

VANCOUVER, BC--(Marketwired - June 08, 2015) - As the United Nations marks the first-ever International Albinism Awareness Day, dermatologists are drawing attention to the violence, fear and stigmatization that many people with albinism must endure.

Some 11,000 delegates from the international dermatology community are in Vancouver for the World Congress of Dermatology (WCD), from June 8 to June 13, including many physicians from Africa, where people with albinism suffer horrifying violence so that their body parts can be sold as charms and used in witchcraft rituals.

Peter Ash, Founder and CEO of Under The Same Sun, a Canadian-based organization that works to protect the human rights of people with albinism, is attending WCD.

"Since 2006, more than 300 attacks have been recorded in 25 countries, and likely many more have gone unrecorded," he said. "The hand, arm or other body part of a person with albinism is combined with other ingredients and then sold for thousands of dollars. Even people with albinism who are not the direct targets of violence face a life often characterized by sever discrimination, resulting in little or no access to health care or education."

People with albinism outside of Africa also continue to experience stigmatization. The stereotype of the "evil albino" is entrenched in popular culture, creating a negative mystique around people who simply have a genetic condition. In many cases, lack of familiarity and understanding is at the root of attitudes toward people with albinism.

"History has taught us that a person's skin can be the basis for dehumanization," said Dr. Roderick Hay, Chairman of the International Foundation for Dermatology. "As dermatologists, we can help people with albinism deal with the danger from UV rays, but we cannot help them deal with the attitudes of their fellow human beings."

Under the Same Sun (www.underthesamesun.com) advocates a four-pronged strategy to tackle the situation: create awareness for the truths about albinism; provide protection and support; empower with education and job skills training; and create a new future with full and equal inclusion in the community, where people with albinism are seen taking their rightful place in every level of society.

In recent years, there has been some progress in moving people with Albinism more into the cultural mainstream in some countries. There are even a growing number of fashion models with albinism or vitiligo -- another condition affecting skin pigment -- who are getting work in the fashion world with such brands as Givenchy and Diesel. Albinism advocates say this is a good trend, but much more is needed, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions.

Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition that occurs worldwide regardless of ethnicity or gender. It most commonly results in the lack of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure. This can lead to skin cancer and in all cases includes visual impairment. Both parents must carry the gene for it to be passed on to their children, even if they do not themselves have manifestations of the condition.

The prevalence of albinism varies across the world. According to the World Health Organization, estimates vary from one in 5,000 to one in 15,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Tanzania one 1,400 people have albinism. In Europe and North America, one in 20,000 people have the condition, according to Under the Same Sun. However, data on the prevalence of albinism by country remains scarce.

About Albinism

Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world. It can happen to anyone if both father and mother carry the gene for it to be passed on even if they do not have albinism themselves. While numbers vary, in North America and Europe it is estimated that 1 in every 20,000 people have some form of albinism. In Tanzania albinism is much more prevalent, with estimates of 1 in 1,400 people being affected. Albinism results in a lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure and bright light. Almost all people with albinism are visually impaired; they may in a rare form of albinism have a shortened life span due to lung disease or may develop life-threatening skin cancers, particularly in tropical climates.

About the WCD

The World Congress of Dermatology is the world's oldest and continuous international dermatology meeting. The first WCD was held in 1889 and is presented under the auspices of the International League of Dermatological Societies. The 23RD WCD is the first to be held in Canada. For more information, contact the WCD press office at 778-331-7624 or www.derm2015.org. Follow the WCD on Twitter and Instagram at @Derm2015.

About the ILDS

The International League of Dermatological Societies is a non-governmental organization in official relations with the World Health Organization and was officially established in 1935 during the 9th International Congress of Dermatology and Syphilology held in Budapest. The objectives of the ILDS are to stimulate on a global basis the cooperation of societies of dermatology and societies interested in cutaneous medicine and biology; encourage the worldwide advancement of dermatological education, care, and science; promote personal and professional relations amongst dermatologists from around the world; represent dermatology in international health organizations; and, organize a World Congress of Dermatology every four years. For more information about the ILDS, connect with them on Twitter @ILDSDerm or visit www.ilds.org.

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Contact Information

  • Contact Information
    Jennifer Scott
    WCD2015 Media Relations Director
    Mobile: 1-613-716-2098
    media@derm2015.org
    www.derm2015.org

    WCD on-site press office (as of June 9, 2015)
    Tel.: 778-331-7624