Albinism–the medical condition that results in the lack of pigment in the skin–is particularly prevalent in Tanzania, affecting one in 1,400 people. For comparison, in western countries, about one in 20,000 people live with albinism.
This uniquely high prevalence of albinism in Tanzania is particularly unfortunate because some local witch doctors believe their body parts have magical powers–and are willing to pay an extremely high price for the limbs of people with albinism. Since 2000, the UN says that at least 74 people have been killed for their body parts, and many more have lost limbs in hacking attacks.
This story, from UNICEF, is one of the only times you will hear directly from a Tanzanian affected by this ugly and inhumane practice. Kulwa, 21, was attacked for her arm.
The government is cracking down on these attacks, arresting scores of witch doctors in recent weeks. The President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, is taking a tough stand, calling the practice an “evil” that has shamed Tanzania.
The UN is doing its part, too. Discrimination against people with Albinism is a worldwide phenomenon. Women in the developing world who give birth to a child with albinism are particularly affected, often shunned from their families.
Earlier this week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights launched a new campaign “People With Albinism, not Ghosts But Human Beings” to counter this stigma. This comes ahead of the first-ever General Assembly mandated International Albinism Awareness Day.
Old beliefs are hard to overcome. But local and international efforts to change people’s outlooks and counter superstitions can help move the needle in the right direction.