What is Albinism?
Albinism is a hereditary condition that results in a lack of pigmentation in skin, hair, and eyes.

This inherited condition is characterized by a lack of the pigment melanin, resulting in pale skin, light hair, pale eyes and impaired vision. Both parents must carry the gene in order to pass it on, but they may not have albinism themselves. Although in Europe and North America approximately 1 in 20,000 people has albinism, the rates are higher in Africa, with about 1 in 1,400 occurrences in Tanzania.

The term “Person with albinism” is preferred over “albino” as it puts the person ahead of their condition.

Learn about the issues that affect people with albinism in Africa
Discrimination & Rejection
A person with albinism in sub-Saharan Africa faces discrimination, isolation and even abandonment.

The every-day life of a person with albinism in Africa is too often characterized by loneliness, poverty and rejection. Children with albinism are stared at and made fun of by their peers.

Many husbands desert their wives when they give birth to a child with albinism. The parent's superstitions may lead them to completely abandon or even kill their newborns. Well-meaning but fearful parents may lock away their children with albinism, isolating them from making friends, going to school and living a normal childhood. For those who do go to school, low-vision leads to high dropout rates. Adults with albinism are shunned and passed over for jobs. Poverty is rampant.

Superstition & Witchcraft
Dangerous myths and stigma surround people with albinism.

In Tanzania, people with albinism are called zeru zeru, meaning “ghosts.” It is assumed by some that these “ghosts” bleed a different colour, or even that they are immortal. These dangerous beliefs incite the brutal attacks against people with albinism. A baby born with albinism may be considered a curse and be killed.

Witchdoctors take advantage of the ignorance and superstitions, fuelling beliefs that people with albinism possess magical qualities. They spread the lie that the body parts of people with albinism used in charms and potions bring wealth, power and good luck.

Albinism around the world
Human Rights Abuse & Attacks
People with albinism may be attacked and killed for their body parts.

Since 2006, more than 520 attacks on people with albinism in 28 countries have been recorded. At more than 170 incidents, Tanzania has the largest recorded number of attacks. There is a black market for body parts, hair and skin used by witchdoctors in potions and charms. The nature of attacks can range from maiming, to death, to desecrating a grave.

Young Miriam was killed in her home while she slept. Her 8-year old brother Manyasi watched in horror from under the bed.

15-year old Pendo lost her right arm in an attack by 3 men with machetes while having supper with her family.

Baby Yohana was taken after assailants slashed his mother’s face, and ripped him from her arms. His dismembered body was found 2 days later.

28 year old Mariamu was betrayed by her neighbour in an attack that cost her both arms and her unborn baby's life.

Paul’s grave was robbed 3 years after his death of skin cancer at age 21.

Danger! Election Year!
Election years are particulary unsafe for people with albinism.

There is an increased demand for body parts of people with albinism in the lead-up to elections when people running for office – people who are wealthy and educated – may turn to witch doctors for good luck potions. The people who harvest the parts are usually impoverished and willing to do something dreadful simply to make a bit of money. These criminals can gain up to $75,000 U.S. for the sale of a whole body according to the U.N. Few attackers and witchdoctors have been brought to trial, let alone convicted. Not one buyer in this macabre trade has ever been prosecuted.

Where have the attacks happened?
Attacks in Africa
Tanzania has the highest recorded number of attacks at over 170.
Map of Africa: The countries in red are those where violent attacks against person with albinism occurred.
Health Issues
Health problems makes it difficult to lead a normal life if you have albinism.

Albinism affects the structure and pigmentation of the eye, causing visual impairment ranging from mild to severe. Many people with albinism are legally blind. All have extreme sensitivity to light. People with albinism are much more susceptible to skin cancer because the lack of melanin in their skin leaves them unprotected from the sun. Most children with albinism as young as 10 in sub-Saharan Africa have some form of early-stage skin cancer and only 2% live beyond age 40. Many are not aware of the danger from the sun and how to protect themselves. They may also not have access to sunscreen.

In Remembrance
This monument in Sengerema, Tanzania stands near the epicenter of attacks against people with albinism, to honor those who have been violently assaulted and killed.

The life-sized metal statue, made by Tanzanian artists with disabilities, looks to the future. The statue depicts a pigmented father holding his child with albinism on his shoulders while a pigmented mother puts a wide brimmed hat on the child’s head to protect him from the sun. It portrays an integrated family living a normal life, anticipating the day when people with albinism in Tanzania will live normal lives, free of the deadly discrimination that haunts them today. As a memorial, the names of those who have been attacked are etched around it.

UTSS Latest News

June 13th, 2017
We are people too.
Read the Newsweek editorial written by UTSS Founder & CEO, Peter Ash, on his experience as a person with albinism and the persecution that PWA still face in many parts of the world.
May 05th, 2017
The Hunted
The New York Times reports on the deadly discrimination facing people with Albinism in Malawi and Mozambique.
April 12th, 2017
Tanzanian children with albinism seek care in US
Four Tanzanian children with albinism, who lost limbs in brutal superstition-driven attacks, arrived in the United States on Saturday for medical treatment and respite from a homeland where they are persecuted and feared.
April 12th, 2017
Global News
Four Tanzanian children with albinism who lost limbs in brutal superstition-driven attacks arrived in the United States on Saturday for medical treatment and respite from a homeland where they are persecuted and feared.
April 12th, 2017
Malawi police arrest 2 men found with the bones of a person with albinism
Police followed and arrested 2 men caught selling human bones near Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe.
April 12th, 2017
Malawi attack survivor: 'I am too scared to sleep'
Femia Tchulani survived an attempted kidnapping in Malawi by people wanting to kill her for her body parts.
April 12th, 2017
Witch doctors in Malawi are hiring ‘hit men’
In Malawi, where the condition is more common than almost anywhere in the world, witch doctors hire ‘hit men’ from among the impoverished rural communities to murder then mutilate persons with albinism so they can use their organs for ‘medicines’ that are sold at huge prices.
April 12th, 2017
Persons with albinism in Zambia call for end to brutality
At least ten PWA are murdered in ritual killings every year in Zambia.
March 06th, 2017
Nyasa Times
Malawi Police have intensified their hunt for attackers who severely wounded two persons with albinism Friday.
March 03rd, 2017
Africa Times
An independent United Nations expert called Friday for stronger oversight of traditional medicine in African countries in order to limit the threat to people living with albinism.