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Protect children with albinism from ultraviolet light to avoid skin cancer – Experts advise

Saturday January 23 2021
Albinism pic
By Rosemary Mirondo

Dar es Salaam.  Skin cancer is a major disease that affects people with albinism exposed to the ultraviolet light without adequate protection from early childhood to their youth.

Albinism is a congenital disorder that results in a lack of pigmentation of the hair, skin, and eyes. One person in 17,000 has some form of albinism. The disorder is not contagious, nor can it be transferred from individual to individual through dermal contact, blood transfusion, or via pathogen carrying organism.

People with albinism have a genetic defect that cannot produce enzymes that make the melanin (skin colour) that protects humans from ultraviolet sun that causes skin cancer.

Muhimbili National Hospital, Dermatologist Skin Cancer, Dr Andrew Foi also saysthat albinism was a genetic defect where a person had no capability to produce enzymes that make melanin.

He says that there are three types of albinism that included Oculocutaneous- for person with pigmentation of the skin, hair and eyes, while Ocular- was for person with eyes albinism but normal skin colour like other human beings.

Further noting that the Rofus type was people with albinism mostly found in South Africa who have almost nonexistent problem except that their skin is almost yellow.

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He said for Oculocutaneous type of albinism are mostly found in Tanzania that cannot produce enzymes that make melanin (skin colour) and therefore at high risk of getting skin cancer.

According to him the skin cancer affects them through ultraviolet light that penetrates the skin and changes the gene cells to cancer cells.

“Society lacks knowledge on how to take care of people with albinism and therefore when they are still children they are sent to do activities under the sun including walking long distance to fetch water, or going to the farm for long periods without adequate clothing,” he said.

Explaining, he said they work under the sun for long periods wearing short sleeved clothes which are most times transparent and in such scenario when they are still children they start acquiring different forms of cancer that escalates when they are at their youths to skin cancer.

However, he noted that to make people aware of the dangers the government has come up with strategies aimed at creating awareness including allowing non government organizations that include Under the Same Sun, the Tanzania Society of Albinism to educate the public.

Further he noted the government has established KCMC Regional Dermatology School that trains doctors on how to treat people with albinism.

Meanwhile a report from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Private Grants Innovation Program has been piloting a cryosurgery cancer treatment for persons with albinism in Tanzania.

Albinism which affects as many as 1 in 1,400 people in Tanzania is an inherited genetic condition that reduces the amount of melanin pigment formed in the skin, hair and or eyes. It leads to poor vision and a predisposition for skin cancer.

In another development, the Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI), Manager Cancer Screening and Public Advocacy, Dr Maguha Stephano said a majority of youths with albinism are in danger of skin cancer if the society is not made aware of the dangers of the ultraviolet light to their skin.

Dr Stephano said skin cancer can be avoided if people with albinism protect themselves from direct sunlight.

“People with Albinism lack the melanin pigmentation and when they are exposed to the sun without being properly covered with a wide brimmed hat, cloths that cover the whole body and sunscreen that acts as melanin for them, then they have a huge percentage of getting skin cancer,” according to Dr Stephano.

Explaining Dr Stehano said it’s imperative that the youth protect themselves from skin cancer by avoiding prolonged activities in the sun and wear fully covering body clothes against the sun that include long-sleeve shirts, pants, dresses and skirts that cover the legs

“They are also advised to wear a wide-broad hat when they are outside in the sun and not put on caps because they are not the right protection,” said the Doctor.

Dr Stephano further noted that it was imperative the youths with albinism apply sunscreen lotion that reduces sun radiation effect on their skins.

Adding that people with albinism are also advised to regularly check their skin to determine any changes that could be detrimental to their health by visiting health centers on a regular basis.

Speaking to The Citizen, Kondo Seif who is also an advocacy officer, Under the Same Sun, said people with Oculocutaneous type of albinism that is as a result of pigmentation of the hair, skin and eyes are mostly affected with skin cancer.

“People with this type of albinism lack pigmentation of the hair, skin and eyes. He said he was lucky to be 58 years old when many youths with albinism had lost their lives because their parents, guardians or even the society lacked the awareness and how to protect their children from direct contact with the sun.

He noted that there were only three hospitals that treat cancer patients in the country including Ocean Road, Bugando and KCMC which even though treatment is free is always difficult to get referral to and even when they do they are always at stage three or four of the disease which is the last stage.

Explaining he said the public needs to be aware how to protect people with albinism not to get skin cancer by wearing wide brimmed hats, long sleeved shirts, long skirts, dresses and trousers that cover the legs and apply sunscreen lotion on parts that are not covered with cloths.

“Sunscreen lotion was not produced for people with albinism but manufactured to help reduce radiation. It’s very difficult to get the lotion n the country because its only produced at KCMC and the rest imported,” he said.

Explaining he said the lotion was very expensive sold at Sh70,000 which a majority could not afford and those who could did not have the knowledge on how to use it. Some apply at night when there is no sun and others apply on the whole body instead of  parts that are exposed to the sun.

“The best lotion for people with albinism is the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) that is 30 to 100 percent with ability to protect them from the sun.