By ANTHONY TAMBWE, 7th May 2011 @ 16:00, Total Comments: 0, Hits: 3807
PEOPLE stare as she walks past, with a rugged umbrella above her the only protection against
the glaring August Dar es Salaam sun. Only a few years ago, Grace Michael, an albino, had only one enemy, the sun, because people with albinism lack the pigment melanin and the protection it affords against the sun.
Albinism is a non-contagious, genetically inherited condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world, but because of lack of awareness, people
view the condition with different perceptions. Currently in Tanzania, albinism means shame, fear and a life of limited possibility which may be cut short at any moment.
People with albinism (PWA) in Tanzania face many challenges, including dicrimination, poor education, and in recent years, hundreds of them are thought to have been killed across Africa for black magic purposes, and albino girls are being raped because of a belief they offer a cure for AIDS As Grace makes her way through dark alleys on her way home, her discomfort
over the glaring sun is overtaken by a strong fear of insecurity.
Almost all people with albinism are visually impaired, with the majority being classified as “legally blind”. 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, and throughout East Africa, albinism is much more prevalent, with estimates of 1 in 2,000 people being affected.
Under The Same Sun (UTSS) Fund is a Canadian, federally registered, non-profit organization founded in 2008 by the current CEO, Peter Ash. UTSS Fund is investing significantly within Tanzania to improve the lives of Persons With Albinism (PWA) by establishing a well staffed office and resource center.
Because of their condition, most, if not all PWA suffer from poor vision, and their eyes are not accustomed to glaring sunlight. Dr. Rebecca Kammer has been providing low vision rehabilitation to persons with visual impairment for over ten years through a large clinic in
California at the Southern California College of Optometry in the US.
Recently, she was in Tanzania to conduct a low vision clinic for Under the Same Sun with PWA, a pilot project which is set to act as a curtain raiser for the initial project set for June and July this year. Because of their significant low vision, PWA have continued to experience difficulties in their daily activities, and a visit to the optician yields nothing much, because the
equipments they have are meant for ordinary eye problems.
“PWA have specific set of needs, because their eyes are more sensitive, and for them, normal glasses are not helpful, they need magnifiers,” she said.She was horrified at the brutality that she witnessed, but she was also impacted by the apparent lack of vision care and specifically low vision care to children and adults with albinism in East Africa.
Children with albinism have been perceived to posses poor IQ in classrooms because of their poor performance, but she says that this is mainly attributed to the fact that they experience problems in reading from the blackboard. Her goal is to lessen or remove the barriers created by visual impairment for the successful education of children and adults with albinism, and
she is quick to add that this goal can be achieved on a short term basis through direct care and on a long term basis through the education of eye care providers in Tanzania.
“As an educator, it is important to me to be able to equip others about visual impairment and low vision provision in PWAs,” she said Many of her patients have albinism and are easily assisted in achieving educational and life goals through low vision services and magnifying
devices as provided in her clinic. “All persons with albinism have vision loss, but the degree
and severity of that vision loss is highly dependent on the type of albinism.
Most PWAs have very high refractive error and simple glasses can be helpful as a first step to
improving visual ability,” she said. Some of the common challenges facing PWAs include
driving, reading more easily in the classroom setting, and blending in with friends without
obvious dependence on magnifiers. Albinism is a rare, noncontagious, genetically inherited
condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world.
Both the father and mother must carry the gene for it to be passed on even if they do not have albinism themselves. The condition 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, with the majority being classified as “legally blind”.
While numbers vary, in North America and Europe it is estimated that one in every 20,000 people have some form of albinism. In Tanzania, and throughout East Africa, albinism is much more prevalent, with estimates of one in 2,000 people being affected. The guest of honor during the function, the Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children, Sophia Simba said the government through her ministry is making sure that children with albinism get equal opportunities in education and health.
“If we empower persons with albinism, it means that they will go to school, they will enjoy the same opportunities that people without albinism enjoy. They will know their rights, their responsibilities and their duties and they will be able to compete anywhere with other persons
without albinism and that way, the society will see them as human beings. Because right now they don’t see them as human beings,” she said.
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