June 13 will mark International Albinism Awareness Day. This memorable date was established at the UN only a few years ago after it became known about the atrocities that albinos in Africa are subjected to.
Who are albinos?
These are people with unusually fair skin and hair, and sometimes with reddish eyes. Their appearance is due to a lack of pigments called melanin (do not confuse with melatonin, which regulates sleep-wake cycles and is sold in pharmacies). Depends on the number and ratio of melanins, blond man, brunette or red, pale or dark, what color he has an iris. There is special melanin even in the brain. True, why is he really incomprehensible .
Melanin deficiency occurs in albinos due to mutations in the genes that regulate the production and distribution of these substances in the body. Since breakdowns occur in different places of DNA, there are several types of albinism, more than a dozen of them are described in the scientific literature, but the classification has not been fully established. Some albinos have completely white skin and hair, while others are simply paler than usual and with yellow hair. Someone’s eyes are affected only, but there are also forms that can be recognized only when examined with special equipment.
Is it dangerous?
Usually albinism does not shorten life expectancy, but albinos more often burn out in the sun and suffer from skin cancer ( presumably , melanin protects against ultraviolet rays and acts as an antioxidant), their eyes are more sensitive to light than other people. Because of this, albinos have to close their skin, use special creams, wear dark glasses. Often they have poor eyesight, sometimes they have strabismus, the eyes move involuntarily – the look seems to run.
With proper care, these are surmountable difficulties, but even penniless glasses are not available everywhere and not to everyone. For example , in Tanzania, only 10% of albino children go to high school (in 2017, the national average was 58%). When there is nothing to close your skin and eyes, even playing with friends on the street is not so simple, but if you do go out, you will find a wise guy who will tease you.
There are more dangerous forms of albinism, for example,Germanic-Pudlak syndrome. In people with this syndrome, blood coagulates worse, which makes bruises easy, and bleeding difficult to stop. In addition, in some young people lungs healed. After it becomes difficult for them to breathe, life remains for no more than ten years. And sometimes with the Germanic-Pudlak syndrome, the intestines become inflamed and the kidneys fail.
Is albinism being treated?
No, so far, doctors are only able to help with related problems like visual impairment. Someone will say that albinism – at least some forms – is not a disease at all in order to treat it. Be that as it may, a genetic test during pregnancy reveals this feature. But many do not even suspect that they may have such a baby – albinos appear in people with ordinary pigmentation.
Albinism is a fairly common phenomenon. On average, one out of 17–20 thousand people is albino. But in some places they are much more common. For example, among the Panamanian Indians, kuna albino is one hundred and fifty. Kuna consider this a blessing. True, when the Spaniards colonized those territories, the kuna began to kill white-skinned children due to associations with the invaders.
By the way, what atrocities were mentioned at the beginning of the article?
In Africa, between lakes Victoria and Tanganyika, it is believed that albinos and parts of their body bring good luck. Children are especially valued because of their innocence. Albinos are attacked by warlocks and maimed, and sometimes killed to make talismans. The report of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, published in 2009, said that in the largest city of Tanzania Dar es Salaam, four limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose of an albino in the amount cost $ 75 thousand. Also in those parts it is believed that having sex with an albino girl can save you from HIV / AIDS.
The attacks began in the mid-2000s. Political analyst Benson Bana explained to The Guardian that fishing regulation was tightened on Lake Victoria. Catches were reduced, and if someone came across large prey, then this was explained by superstition. It was then that the sorcerers took notice, and soon amulets from albinos became popular with local miners. However, killings for “medical” purposes (not necessarily albinos) have been carried out in Africa since time immemorial.
More than a hundred victims of sorcerers and their mercenaries are known, but probably more albinos died. Relatives are often involved in crimes, so they are not made public. The authorities of East African countries and non-profit organizations have achieved some success, but the problem has not been fully resolved.
Who else has albinism?
On the Internet it is easy to find photos of a wide variety of albinos: kangaroos, pandas, moose, even crocodiles. But in some creatures, melanin is not the only substance that gives color, so without it, not everyone becomes albino. By the way, there is melanin even in bacteria, because they also need protection from sunlight.
There are even plants as albinos , but in their case it is due to the absence of the green pigment chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is needed for the production of nutrients, so these plants usually die young.
However, the leafless chin (Epipogium aphyllum) also survives without chlorophyll: this is an entire albino species, it receives food by fungal hyphae that entangle its roots. The chin, or ghostly orchid, is found in Russia, but is extremely rare (so it’s better not to pluck it!). Maybe you are lucky and you will see this beautiful flower.