Life, to some people, is a bed of roses. It is beautiful and full of exciting moments. To others, it is nothing but misery. Like Thomas Hobbes would have it said, it is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The population of albinos in Akwanga Local Government Area of Nasarawa State would appear to belong to the latter category.
Life for the majority of the albinos is anything but rosy. Besides their story of deprivation and misery, majority of them are battling with cancer of the skin.
Driven by stigmatization from their ancestral homes and abandoned by the government, they live in perpetual hunger without any source of livelihood amid pains from the wounds on their skins for which they have no means of treatment.
Many of them said they wake up every day without any idea of where their meals would come from. The hopeless situation, they said, has sent many of them into early graves.
Our correspondent, who was on a visit to their abode in Akwanga LGA of the state on the day set aside by the international community as Albinism Awareness Day, gathered that among their major challenges is non-availability of treatment centres for skin cancer in the state, which they said had left them at the mercy of the disease.
The Chairman, Nasarawa State Association of persons with Albinism, Mr John Maigwa, told our correspondent that the society had abandoned them to their fate as most of them could not afford to buy soap and other household items needed protect their skins, on account of which many of them had died prematurely from cancer.
Maigwa said: “We faced two major challenges: the society around us find it difficult to associate with us. Some people think we are ghosts while others say we are punishment from God.
“We have never received any assistance from any organisation or government. Many of our members have been down with skin cancer for three years now and are in critical conditions while others have died because they lacked the means to access treatment.
“The latter set may eventually die unless some urgent steps are taken to save their lives. They are from poor families. They hardly get three square meals in a day.”
An albino, Mr. Adeh John, said they suffer rejection at motor parks, places of worship and other public gatherings just because of their physical appearance.
In Akwanga, the expressions on the faces of the albinos were clear indications that all was not well with them.
Yakubu Abie, an albino, told our correspondent that life had been cruel to him because of the colour of his skin. He said he had never experienced the good side of life since he was born even though he does not regret being a Nigerian.
Abie said: “Life has not been good to me since I was born an albino 20 years ago.
“Although my parents are farmers, I had lofty dreams because I thought I would be able to navigate through life’s challenges and become successful. But here I am in a shanty without any care.
“We avoid the sun because of our skin. The issue of poor eyesight is also there because of lack of pigmentation, making some of us not to see properly.”
He pleaded with government and individuals to stop all forms of discrimination against them, saying that they are normal humans with the capacity to contribute to the nation’s development.
According to him, “stigmatization and discrimination against people with skin pigmentation need to stop. There is need for equal treatment and effective social integration in the society.
“We are not disabled. We are able and can work in any capacity. No one should judge us by our skin colour but by what we can do.
“Many of our members have lost their lives as a result of skin cancer and other skin diseases.”
He said majority of persons living with albinism (PWAs) have no access to treatment due to poverty, ignorance, myths and misconceptions about albinism, lack of melanin, the fact that their skin pigments are vulnerable to cancer and hair and eye defects.
He said: “We need free medical care to reduce the rate of skin cancer in the albinism community.
“We are told that witchdoctors need our body parts for witchcraft.
“Our government has abandoned us due to our skin colour. We are now exposed to pains, suffering, lack of food and maintenance.
“Most of our people have died due to hardship, and we are told that witchdoctors keep praying for us to die so that they can use our body for witchcraft when we are buried.
“We are told that Albinos human body parts are used as ingredients for witchcraft. Our bodies are used for specific organs. Witchdoctors can only acquire these body parts from underground organ hunters.”
Albinism, a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition found in both men and women, is said to be caused by lack of melanin in hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light.
The challenges faced by People Living with Albinism (PWA) and the struggle to live beyond the skin color, stigmatization, myths and health challenges such as crossed eyes, rapid eye movements, impaired vision or blindness, sensitivity to light and sun exposure cannot be over-emphasised.
There are also such challenges as stigmatization, discrimination, dehumanization and sometimes brutal killings for money rituals.
Sunburn is also one of the most serious complications because it can increase the risk of skin cancer.