Tanzania’s ‘Albino Island’

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Africa’s ‘Albino Island’
Albinism is a genetic condition also called achromia, achromasia, or achromatosis. It is characterized by a deficit in the production in melanin and by the partial or complete absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. This hereditary disease can be found in humans (affecting all races), mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians.

AFRICANGLOBE – As discrimination and attacks against albinos in Tanzania have soared, many have fled to the remote Ukerewe Island on Lake Victoria.

On Tuesday, police discovered the body of an albino toddler in a Tanzanian forest. His death was the latest in a brutal string of kidnappings and killings that has plagued the country’s albino population for decades. Since the end of last year, a young albino girl in Tanzania has been missing and feared dead.Across central and eastern Africa, pale-skinned albinos are persecuted. But the problem is particularly urgent in Tanzania, where the UN says at least 70 have been killed since 2000—but activist estimates are much higher—and there have been few arrests or convictions.

“When I was growing up there was a stigma,” an activist told National Geographic in 2013. “But people weren’t getting their bones cut—that only starting happening a few years ago.”

As the attacks soared, albinos began fleeing to the remote Ukerewe Island, perched in the middle of Lake Victoria. With around 70 albinos, it has what’s thought to be the highest concentration of albinos in the world. At that time it was considered the only place for albinos to freely live without fear of being hunting for their body parts, and came to serve as a refuge for Tanzania’s albino population.

It’s unclear why Ukerewe already had such a disproportionate number of albinos, but theories claim albinos settled there after being expelled from mainland communities. A documentary that premiered in 2013, In the Shadow of the Sun, followed the lives of two albino residents and their efforts to educate communities.

But in December, the BBC visited the island and found that the killing had reached Ukerewe. A toddler narrowly avoided being snatched from her home by an armed gang recently, and the chairman of the Tanzania Albinism Society was forced to flee after a village leader attempted to kill him.

Three hours away, in the northern city of Mwanza, young albinos have found relative safety in a more urban setting where amenities are still scarce but available.

Many albinos have been severely neglected by their families, abused, and suffer from conditions like blindness that come with the genetic disorder. Mwanza hosts a school for the blind, which offers education and protection for albino children with security patrols and a fence.

Africa has a much higher prevalence rate for albinism than the West does. An estimated one in 5,000 are affected by the genetic disorder, versus one in 20,000 in Europe and the U.S.

In Tanzania, numbers vary widely, but there may be between 33,000 to 100,000 albinos.


By: Nina Strochlic