Albinism or congenital hypopigmentary disorder is a genetic disorder characterized by partial or complete absence of the pigment melanin in the skin, hair, and eyes. The production of melanin is impaired due to a dysfunction in the melanin-producing cells called melanocytes. Just like many human genetic diseases, there is no cure for albinism or ways to make an albinistic person normal. However, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms of albinism so that the quality of life of an affected individual improves.
Albinistic people lack the pigment melanin which protects skin cells from the damaging effects of sunlight. They should minimize their exposure to the sun and use sunscreen to prevent premature skin aging or skin cancer. UV proof clothing and swimsuits are also available for albinistic people to reduce the excessive use of sunscreen products.
To allow the best possible development of the eyes, ophthalmologists recommend the use of glasses from early childhood. Older children can use bifocal glasses to improve their vision. Special reading glasses and contact lenses are also available for people with albinism.
To manage photophobia or sensitivity to light, ophthalmologists prescribe the use of dark glasses that shield the eyes from bright light.
For affected children with esotropia or “crossed eyes”, a medical surgeon can operate on the eyes to expand the visual field or the area that the eyes can see while looking at one point. Usually, the surgery is performed when an affected child is only 6 months old, before the eyes developed fully.
Nystagmus or the involuntary movement of the eyeball is another symptom of albinism that can be treated with surgery of the eye muscle. The surgery reduces the movement of the eyes but it may not improve vision because of other associated eye abnormalities like defects in the retina and optic nerves.
One of the hardest things to treat is the social and cultural stigma to albinism. It is hard to treat millions of brains that think of albinistic people as “cursed”, “freaks”, “maladjusted”, “undersocialized”, and “evil”. In some eastern African countries, especially Tanzania, human albinos are hunted and killed for their highly priced body parts, which are used by witchdoctors to make “magical potions” that promises wealth and good luck to those who will consume them. This is a barbaric act that should be stopped.[ad#afterpost]