Experts point out that albinism could be minimized through the process of determining the position of genes on chromosomes to establish the condition between pairs.
It’s a condition that occurs when one of several genetic defects renders the body unable to produce or distribute melanin, and it’s inherited through families.
Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital dermatologist Joash Matonda defined albinism as the absence of melanin due to decreased production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to hair, eyes, or skin.
He spoke at Uhuru na Kazi Government building during the Mombasa County Albinism Community’s skin cancer screening ahead of International Albinism Awareness Day on Monday.
Around 700 people with albinism live in the entire coastal region with the six counties of Mombasa, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Kilifi, Tana River and Lamu.
“If they check their families for an appropriate medical history and marry people who have no history of albinism, the chances are very high that they will have children without albinism and vice versa. We do marriage counseling so they don’t choose a partner with a history of albinism,” explained Dr. Matonda.
In an exclusive interview with Kenya News Agency, Dr. Matonda points out that albinism is an inherited condition, with the signs being present from the birth of a child, which he says could be managed through gene mapping between couples.
“Albinism is a condition that is inherited from one generation to the next. We have two main types of albinism: ocular albinism, which affects the eye, and oculocutaneous albinism, which makes people’s skin very white or pale,” he added.
He further argued that premarital gene screening could help resolve cases of albinism and other diseases that are costly to treat.
Matonda also urged Kenyans with albinism to stop intermarriage to minimize the chance of transmitting the disease to their offspring.
“Although love is a passionate obsession in which individuals feel affection for one another, we encourage our brothers and sisters with albinism to marry other members of society to reduce the genetic transmission of their condition to the next generation,” he added euphemistically.
The consulting dermatologist of the Coastal Region Hospital, who carried out skin cancer screening and public health in the albinism community in Mombasa on physical body management, also called on the Kenyan society to change its attitude towards the community.
He said people with albinism suffer from two types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma – a type of skin cancer that starts in the basal cells that produce new skin cells when the old ones die off, and squamous cell carcinoma – the most common type of skin cancer characterized by abnormal, accelerated growth of squamous cells, which is curable if diagnosed early.
He explained that skin cancer in albinism begins with excessive exposure to the sun, which burns or damages their skin and causes alliteration, which begins with skin redness, itching, blisters, and skin cracks that allow the rays to penetrate.
“Melanin is a pigment that helps us protect against ultraviolet A and B rays, which if we are exposed to them for too long can now cause skin cancer because they either don’t have complete melanin or the enzymes needed for the Synthesis of this pigment are not sufficient, let’s call it the enzyme tyrosine. If they don’t produce enough pigment, the ultraviolet A and B rays can penetrate the skin and cause both types of skin cancer,” added Dr. Matonda added.
Matonda also sounded the alarm about the rampant stigma against the albinism community in the country, something he said has isolated them from the rest of the citizenry.
He appealed to Kenyans to think of the community, which he believes deserves full participation in national construction.
“This community is like any other member of our nation and we need to change our attitude towards them,” he added.
Matonda revealed that to avert the high cost of skin cancer, the albinism community had to strictly adhere to a number of do’s and don’ts, including wearing appropriate clothing and hats and applying sunscreen appropriately.
“You have to be in the sun before 10am and after 4:30pm to get vitamin D. When you have nothing to do, stay indoors, especially for the young and those who have no choice but to work. Schedule outdoor activities for mornings or evenings to avoid sun damage,” added lung and skin specialist James Moyae from Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
Moyae, who suffers from albinism, challenged his colleagues on how to properly apply a range of sunscreen lotions and guided them through the correct procedure for applying the cream.
“You have to apply it around sun-exposed areas of the body. It should be used properly and consistently to protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation,” he stressed.
He thanked the national government for providing free sunscreen lotion, sunscreen and free medical supplies to the community, among other positive measures.