What is albinism?

Albinism and I
Albinism and I


Albinism is a recessive genetic condition that that results in a lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes causing vulnerability to sun exposure and sensitivity to bright light. It leaves the person with albinism (PWA) remarkably pale in comparison to other members of their biological family and community. Albinism is a relatively rare condition that occurs in all races of the world. This means that the condition is often known, but not understood. Albinism is however more prevalent in the Sub-Saharan Africa than in other parts of the world. In Kenya, the statistics on the actual number of persons with albinism are not known but there is an estimate of an occurrence ratio of 1:1500 people.

 What causes albinism?

Albinism is a genetically recessive condition meaning that, both the mother and father must carry the gene for it to be passed on, even if they do not have albinism themselves. When both parents carry the gene, there is a 1 in 4 chance at each pregnancy that the child will have the condition. Some rare instances of albinism are limited to the eyes (ocular albinism). In this case, the person has light coloured eyes but normal coloured skin and hair. This will be discussed below under the different types of Albinism.

Types of Albinism and their implications

There are various types of albinism and therefore a range of physical impact on persons who have the condition. The most common form is known as OCULOCUTANEOUS ALBINISM (OCA) and this affects the skin, hair and the eyes. People with oculotaneous albinism have little or no skin pigment called MELANIN. As a result, they also have very little natural protection against the sun’s rays.

The absence of melanin renders PWA highly prone to sun burn which in turn can lead to skin cancer and death if left untreated. People with this type of albinism need to take precautions to avoid damage to their skin caused by the sun. Damage to the skin can be avoided by regularly wearing sunscreen lotions, hats and sun-protective clothing, which is clothing that, covers skin from exposure to the sun. Persons with albinism in tropical countries such as Kenya must use appropriate skin protection, such as sunscreen lotions rated 30 SPF or higher and proper clothing to enjoy outdoor activities and a normal life span.

Type 2 of albinism is known as OCULAR ALBINISM (OA). This is less common as it involves lack of pigment only in the eyes. People with ocular albinism have tan, reddish or normal skin, hair, and at times normal eye appearance.

Read more about eye care.

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