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Albinism foundation calls for end to stigma

MALUNDE

ABIGAIL CHIYENI, Kitwe
IN MAY last year, it was reported that a 37-year-old albino woman of Chief Magodi in Lundazi was brutally murdered by four suspected ritual killers who cut off her right hand and plucked out her teeth.
Then in December, a 36-year-old albino man of Mandevu in Lusaka died after his right forearm was cut off. His body was found in Lusaka’s Zani Muone West area in what police sources, friends and family suspected was for ritual purposes.
And in March last year, police arrested a man in Lusaka for abandoning his two-year-old baby boy for over two weeks on account that the toddler was an albino.
In the same month, the international media reported that more than 200 witchdoctors and traditional healers had been arrested in Tanzania in a crackdown on the murder of albino people.
The killings have been driven by the belief – advanced by some witchdoctors – that the body parts have properties that confer wealth and good luck.
In Zambia, though, the ritual killings of albinos are indeed rare and not documented and are not as common as in neighbouring Tanzania, where, according to the Red Cross, witchdoctors are prepared to pay US$75,000 for a complete set of body parts.
In that country, albinos represent one in every 1,429 births, a much higher rate than in any other nation in Africa.
The United Nations Human Rights Council in its 2013 report says, for years, superstitions have incited ritual attacks against albinos, with witch doctors using their body parts in potions to bring good fortune to those who are willing to pay for it.
“Some even believe that the witchcraft ritual is more powerful if the victim screams during the amputation, so body parts are often cut from live victims, especially children,” the report says.
It is indeed true that in most parts of Africa, albinos are misunderstood, disadvantaged and even attacked to the extent of being killed.
Fortunately, that is not the case for Albert Chileshe Malunde, an albino of Kitwe’s Chimwemwe township.
The only albino in a family of eight children, Malunde says his parents and siblings have always supported him to ensure he lives a normal life like any other person.
“My parents and siblings do not consider me any different from them. They treat me just like any other normal person. They have done their level best to provide and protect me,” he says.
Despite that, Malunde is concerned at the ritual killings of albinos, and wants a safe environment to be created for them, not just in Zambia but the rest of the continent.
Rightly so, he is happy with the formation of organisations that are involved in advancing the rights and conditions of albinos in the country.
One such organisation is the Albinism Foundation of Zambia (AFZ), in which Malunde serves as secretary on the Copperbelt.
The core responsibility of this not-for-profit organisation is to help albinos to have a sense of belonging and equip them with the necessary information on how they should protect themselves from any form of discrimination or abuse.
“The people in my class [at school] also understand and treat me equally because they are used to me. But the situation is a bit different from the people in the community,” he says.
Malunde is rewriting his grade nine examinations for the third time after failing to perform well because of his poor sight that made it difficult for him to complete answering most of the questions.
The most common physical problems associated with albinism are increased risk of sunburn, skin cancers and poor eyesight. Albinos prefer to usually be indoors to prevent sunburn due to their delicate skin. They also wear hats and sunglasses to protect their eyes and help them see things clearly during the day.
To ensure their skins are not exposed to diseases, albinos also use sunscreen lotion to protect their skin from burning and skin cancer.
Naturally, Malunde feels bad that he has had to re-sit for his exams three times because of his poor eyesight.
But even more, it is the continued general discrimination that albinos continue to go through at the hands of some members of the community that puts him in a more uncomfortable position.
“We live in a world where people claim to be religious or righteous yet can do anything to acquire wealth. This is a very sad development because albinos have become the main target when people think of ways of acquiring wealth,” he says.
“What the perpetrators of this evil act usually forget is that albinos are human beings and they deserve to be treated just like everyone else.”
AFZ chairperson Nswana Lumayi wants authorities to come up with a legal framework that will not only guarantee the protection of people living with albinism but also empower them economically.
Mr Lumayi says Government should ensure that any person found discriminating, stigmatising and killing people with albinism are punished severely.
He says albinos face numerous social and economic challenges because of their condition, which he says, is a source of discrimination, ridicule and fear because of the threat of being killed for ritual purposes.
“Government should ensure that people living with albinism are freely provided with the essential services such as sunscreen and any other mitigating services consistently,” Mr Lumayi says.
He laments that albinos have continued languishing without jobs and are generally poor, making them vulnerable to many vices.
Mr Lumayi says albinos are also capable of contributing to the country’s social, economic, political and cultural development if given the necessary attention.
He, however, says his organisation is so far happy with the efforts Government is putting in addressing the plight of people living with albinism.
It is Mr Lumayi’s prayer that society will also be alive to the fact that people living with albinism are part of humanity.
And Copperbelt Province deputy permanent secretary Elias Kamanga says Government considers every citizen equal before the law.
Mr Kamanga says albinos form a huge percentage of the country’s population, the reason it has come up with the Disabilities Act aimed at protecting them.
He says Government remains committed to ensuring that people living with disabilities are protected, empowered and enjoy their rights.

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