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Albino People Being Slaughtered in Africa

June 6, 2010 4 comments

Why is scientific knowledge important? For reasons like this.

In the African nations of Tanzania and Burundi people afflicted with albinism, a disorder resulting in the lack of pigmentation in the hair, eyes and skin, are being hunted and killed so that their body parts may be used by witch doctors in their rituals.

Albino body parts are highly prized in these circles. The limbs fetch a hefty price ($2000 to $3000 per limb), and often the heads of albino people are kept as good luck charms.

Albinism also results in severely reduced vision quality. As a result, few albino people are able to complete educational programs or gain employment. Couple this with their differently coloured skin, Albinos are heavily discriminated and feared in these countries. It is believed by many in these cultures that albinism is a curse and may even be contagious. This makes them easy targets for witch doctors and limb-hunters. It is estimated that as many as 10 000 albinos live in fear and hiding in Tanzania and Burundi.

The biggest problem here is a lack of scientific education. Now granted, in developing countries it can be exceptionally difficult to gain widespread public education of scientific theories. But this situation is a horrific microcasm of the larger problem of lack of scientific knowledge in communities all over the world.

Albinism is caused by a defect, or complete absence, of an enzyme which produces melanin. Melanin is what gives hair, skin, and eyes their pigmentation. This lack of skin pigmentation makes the person much more susceptible to skin cancer and damage from the sun (a problem especially bad for those living in Africa).

Of course, there is no scientific evidence which supports the practice of black magic or anything similar. These practices are superstitions which have been passed on for generations. Old habits die hard, evidently. The belief in witch craft  also led to the murder of 40 000 to 100 000 so called “Witches” in Europe in the Reformation period between 1480 and 1700.

Witch Hunts in Europe

Albinism, when treated properly with adequate sun protection and vision correction, is non-life threatening and certainly not contagious. In fact, those who have albinism in North America have the same life expectancy as the rest of the population. In Eastern Africa, however, the life expectancy is around the mid-30s.

This is an issue not isolated to Africa. Many people believe that certain races are genetically inferior to others and that they deserve ridicule and apartheid. Even in North America, people are still being murdered because of the colour of their skin or their genetic background. It is a terrible state of affairs and often stems from poor education and ignorance.

But there is hope. An organization called “Under the Same Sun” is currently working in Eastern Africa to help those afflicted with Albinism in Tanzania by providing them with medical treatment and education. The international Red Cross also has a presence in the region and is providing sanctuary to children with albinism.

I am constantly arguing for the importance of greater scientific knowledge and education all over the world. Cases such as this are perhaps the most horrific example of scientific ignorance, and what the result can be.