14 people with albinism  succumb to skin cancer in Busoga

People with albinism are seen during a fundraising walk organized by the Ugandan Parliament in Kampala on January 20, 2020. PHOTO/FILE/DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Albinism is a genetic condition that causes a person to produce little or no melanin, the pigment responsible for skin, hair, and eye.

At least 14 persons living with albinism (PWA) have succumbed to skin cancer in Busoga Sub-region from 2021 to date, according to data from the Source of the Nile Union of Persons with Albinism (SNUPA).

Albinism is a genetic condition that causes a person to produce little or no melanin, the pigment responsible for skin, hair, and eye.

It is, therefore, the lack of melanin to protect their skins that makes them susceptible to skin cancer, according to Dr Henry Manson Ngobi, a dermatologist at St Francis Hospital Buluba in Mayuge District.

The data, released at the weekend by the SNUPA Executive Director, Mr Peter Ojik, ahead of the celebrations to mark 2022 International Awareness Day Celebrations, indicates that 10 people with the condition died in 2021, while four have so far died this year.

The national celebrations will be held today at Busoga Square in Jinja City. Mr Ojik, however, said they have seen a slight decrease in the number of deaths of albinos.

“Ninety-eight percent of PWA die of cancer before clocking 40 [years]; when we started this job [of carrying out skin cancer outreaches], we have seen a slight reduction in the death rate. Last year we lost 10 people, while this year, we have so far lost 4,” he said.

Mr Ojik appealed to the government to work hand in hand with local manufacturing companies to start production of sunscreen lotions and make them easily accessible. This, he said, will mitigate the spread of skin cancer among PWA. He added: “We have many companies dealing in the manufacture of vaseline; the government can work with them to have a plant in Uganda and reduce cases of skin cancer because accessibility will be easy, other than depending on donors who are likely to disappear anytime.”

Dr Ngobi said the only way to reduce skin cancer among PWA is by use of liquid nitrogen through freezing and destroying of abnormal skin cells or precancerous lesions.

The Jinja City Deputy Mayor, Ms Fazira Kawuma, urged the government to include sunscreen lotion in the minimum healthcare package such as ARVs and anti-malarial drugs.

Background

According to the US National Institute of Health, around one in 20,000 persons is born with albinism, which would equate to some 400,000 people out of a global population of 7.9 billion. Africa has a slightly higher incidence, estimated at somewhere between one in 5,000 and one in 15,000 inhabitants.

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