COVID-19 changed the way that many of us live, shop, socialize, and work. Currently, the global pandemic sits at 5.54 million cases. But even in places like Uganda, with only 212 confirmed cases, the lockdown prevents normal function. Specifically, people with albinism are finding it difficult to purchase essential items like sunscreen that will keep them safe from skin cancer.
Albinism is a group of genetic disorders in which someone does not produce enough (or any) melanin. Melanin is a skin pigment that determines someone’s hair, eye, and even skin color. It also helps protect against damage from UV rays.
Albinism is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. This means that someone must receive a mutated gene copy from both parents.
Generally, people with albinism have light, pinkish skin that is extremely sensitive in the sun. In fact, sun exposure causes the formation of freckles or moles. Those with albinism are at risk of developing skin cancer. Although some people can have darker hair, it tends to be lighter blonde or even white. Other symptoms include light sensitivity (photophobia), involuntary and uncontrolled eye movements, and problems with nearsightedness or farsightedness. Learn more about albinism.
The Impact in Uganda
An estimated 5,000 Ugandans are living with albinism, or 0.011% of the population. Normally, some citizens would travel the 37 miles to Kampala to purchase sunscreen and other items to increase skin protection.
However, COVID-19 necessitated widespread lockdowns. So those who normally go to buy these products are now unable to, raising their risk of developing skin cancer.
Over the last 2 years, 4 Ugandan children died from skin cancer relating to albinism. Now, says Elizabeth Kwagala Mirembe of the Greater Luweero Albino Association:
“Our children…are the most affected. [Although we are advised to always put on clothes that cover the entire body for protection], the sunscreens are the better alternative.”
Without assistance, up to 125 people are at risk.