The Plight of persons with Albinism during the lockdown

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By Sheron Mirriam Tazvivinga

Persons with Albinism (PWA) are among the most vulnerable people affected by government’s emergency measures implemented to control the spread of Covid-19.

With a population that is largely traditional in Kwekwe, people with albinism have to bear with societal rejection on one side and Covid-19 on the other.

As people with albinism are prone to sensitive skin, hand sanitisers have become torture to them.

Energy Mandaza who was born with albinism, narrates how life has become unbearable for him during the pandemic.

He has been turned away at shop entry points after complaining that hand sanitisers were not good for his skin.

” Most of the times I am not allowed to enter shops the moment I tell them that a certain type of sanitiser does not suit my skin. In some instances, I am allowed entry into the shop without being sanitised. The treatment that I have been receiving has been unbearable especially now during the pandemic,” he says.

According to the United Nations (UN) data; albinism is a congenital condition characterised by the absence of pigment in the skin. It is more prevalent in Sub-Sahara Africa.

In Southern Africa, a Regional Action Plan on Albinism (2017-2021) was developed. It is divided into four clusters namely , protection ,accountability and equality and non- discrimination. These are aimed at safeguarding rights of people with albinism.

It is the first plan to be put into place by Southern African countries to curb discrimination and attacks against PWA.

However, in Zimbabwe this policy seems to exist only on paper as people with albinism continue to face discrimination in their societies.

Their victimisation has been accelerated by Covid-19.

Recently TM Pick n Pay branch in Masvingo one of the largest retailers in the country was alleged to have been involved in an incident of discriminating against persons with albinism.

This comes after Agnes Gurunhe took it to various social media platforms that she was denied entry into the shop for refusing to use hand sanitisers citing that the chemical negatively affected her skin.

” I politely asked that I be given water and soap to wash my hands because my skin seriously reacts to sanitisers but the people manning the entrance said that there was no water at the shop and they denied me entry,” she said.

However ,TM Pick n Pay did not issue a public statement or apology.

Zimbabwe Albinos Association(ZIMAS) Director Mercy Maunganidze Chinhanga stated that the chemical used in sanitisers tends to affect their memberships skin.

“The issue of sanitisers is affecting our skin. We have a very sensitive skin and most of our members are reacting badly from the use of the chemical,” she said .

The economic malaise worsened by the lockdown restrictions means that many people with albinism are struggling to put food on the table let alone afford other essential items such as sunscreens and lotions.

The harsh conditions and unrelenting weather patterns in Kwekwe have become more cruel for PWA.

They are uniquely susceptible to sunburns and are at an elevated risk of developing cancers related to chronic sun exposure.

At one-point Mandaza was denied entry by a security guard at a local bank, which he however refused to mention, after he asked to be let inside since the sun was blazing hot on that day.

” Two weeks ago I was ignored by a security guard at the bank he could not allow me in after I asked for permission to be let inside since it was hot outside and I couldn’t stand the heat. The manager had to come and serve me personally though I had already given up,” he said.

He bemoaned the current economic situation as it has rendered him financially unstable .

” The current situation is making it difficult for me to buy sunscreen for my skin ,” he said.

Maunganidze- Chimhanga also added that the lockdown was affecting PWA negatively as they were failing to purchase sunscreens for their skins.

“We source sunscreen lotions for distribution amongst our members. However since the lockdown we are failing because global attention has shifted to Covid-19,” said Maunganidze- Chimhanga.

People with albinism continue to be a forgotten and neglected population in the Covid-19 haze, she said .

As they battle social and cultural challenges, PWA are faced with a new wave of discrimination associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

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