As Nigeria joins the global community today to mark the 2022 International Albinism Awareness Day, a Consultant Physician and Dermatologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Dr. Folakemi Cole-Adeife, says the main principle for taking care of albinism skin is sun protection.
According to the dermatologist, mothers of children with albinism need to be educated on how to protect them from the sun, stressing that sun protection must start from birth.
International Albinism Awareness Day is observed by the United Nations on June 13 every year.
The day provides opportunity to highlight the plight of individuals with this genetic condition and advocate global support for all people living with albinism.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is: “United in making our voice heard.”
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise in commemoration of the day, Dr. Cole-Adeife, said people with albinism should avoid walking outdoors between 11 am and 3 pm when the sun is most intense to prevent skin damage.
Albinism, she said is a skin condition caused by a genetic mutation occurring in some people that makes their skin unable to produce enough melanin.
The dermatologist explained, “When people with albinism lack proper knowledge of caring for their skin, it quickly becomes damaged, freckled and thickened.
“Pre-cancerous skin lesions can occur as early as the second decade of life, and full-blown skin cancer can start in the second and third decades.
“These cancers can be fatal if not treated early. The main principle for taking care of albinism skin is sun protection and more sun protection. Sun protection must start from birth.
“Mothers with children with Albinism need to be educated on how to protect their children from the sun.”
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service says that because people with albinism lack melanin in their skin, they are at increased risk of getting sunburn and skin cancer.
The physician stated that children with albinism should be allowed to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers instead of shorts as their school uniform.
Dr. Cole-Adeife said, “They should also wear hats while in school and must not be required to do anything that will keep them under direct sunlight for long.
“Children with albinism should be permitted to sit as close to the teaching boards as possible due to their visual impairments.
“Sun protective clothing, hats and sunglasses must always be worn when outdoors. Good moisturisers and sunscreen creams are also extremely important, and sunscreen creams should be applied to sun-exposed areas (the face, neck and arms) every 3 hours during the day.”
She also suggested that umbrellas should also be used when outdoors during the day to proetect the skin of children witj albinism from the sun.
Giving further insight into ways of taking care of albinism skin, the physician noted, “Whenever people with albinism develop skin rashes or sores, especially when it lasts longer than one month, they must see a dermatologist as soon as possible to exclude the possibility of skin cancer.
“Most skin cancers are easily treated in the early stages with topical medications, but surgical treatment is required once they become extensive.
“It is recommended that people with albinism visit a dermatologist every six months for a full skin check.
“The doctor will look at their skin from head to toe to ensure that there is no suspicious rash or skin lesion so that if there is, it can be treated as quickly as possible, either with topical creams, cryotherapy or surgical excision.”
According to her, a Nigerian with albinism is 1000 times more likely to develop skin cancer than a normally pigmented black Nigerian.
Dr. Cole-Adeife pointed out that early skin cancer detection in people with albinism saves lives and is much cheaper than late-stage skin cancer treatment.
According to Medical News Today – an online health portal, the main symptoms of albinism are the damage to the vision and the color of the skin, hair, and eyes.
“The most obvious sign of albinism is a lighter skin tone, although this is not always the case. In some people, levels of melanin slowly increase. But, an individual’s skin may burn easily in the sun,” the portal added.
The physician said the estimated prevalence of albinism worldwide is one to 15,000 people, while in Nigeria, it is thought to be about one in 10,000 people.
The dermatologist says people with albinism should not be discriminated against in any way, sressing that they should rather be supported and encouraged by parents, relatives, classmates, bosses, coworkers, government, and religious bodies.
According to the United Nations, people with albinism face multiple forms of discrimination worldwide.
“Albinism is still profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically.
“The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition, which foster their marginalisation and social exclusion.
“This leads to various forms of stigma and discrimination,” the UN said.
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