Southern African governments must ensure the protection and well-being of persons with albinism, who are increasingly vulnerable amid the COVID-19 crisis as lockdowns across the region hinder access to healthcare facilities and skin cancer clinics as well as vital sunscreen, Amnesty International said today ahead of International Albinism Awareness Day.
The organization is also concerned that persons with albinism are at increased risk of attacks for their body parts during the lockdowns because they are locked down in insecure homes and communities with suspected perpetrators.
“Governments across Southern Africa must pay special attention to persons with albinism who are being left further behind in the wake of lockdown measures to curb the virus,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“We know marginalized groups have greater difficulty exercising their human rights, including accessing healthcare and livelihoods in normal times. They are so much more vulnerable during a pandemic.”
Governments across the region have introduced a number of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, including lockdowns and curfews. While these lockdown measures are being relaxed in some countries, they remain tight in other countries making it difficult for people to move around freely. Shops have been shut, public transport reduced, and specialized health services cut off in many places.
As a result, persons with albinism are struggling to access healthcare facilities for skin cancer testing and treatment, get treatment for visual impairments or buy sunscreen lotion, which is not always readily available particularly in rural areas.
Albinism is an inherited genetic condition that prevents the body from making enough colour, or melanin, to protect the skin from the sun. Due to their skin sensitivity to light and sun exposure, persons with albinism are likely to suffer from sunburn leading to skin cancer and other skin-related conditions. Therefore, they require sunscreen and other remedies to protect them, something those living in poverty cannot afford without government assistance.
Governments have provided food aid and stimulus packages to help people cope with the pandemic. However, Amnesty International has found that persons with albinism are often excluded from accessing state aid, such as social grants, in some countries due to access criterion that does not view their condition as a disability.
For example, in Malawi, the organization has found that persons with albinism were often excluded from registering for government poverty alleviation programmes simply because of their condition.
One woman told Amnesty International that when she tried to register for the Social Cash Transfer programme, she was told by traditional leaders charged with registering people for the programme that persons with albinism were ineligible. The woman should have been registered like others to receive social support.
“Authorities must ensure that measures to respond to COVID-19 are inclusive of the specific needs of persons with albinism, including provision of sunscreen lotions, enabling access to information, increasing community policing and improving access to social protection in order to maintain their health, safety, dignity, and independence during and post the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Tigere Chagutah.