SUVA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Taunted for their pale skin and abandoned by their families, the plight of Fijians with albinism needs to be addressed with the Pacific region having one of the highest rates of the congenital disorder globally, a United Nations expert said on Thursday.
Ikponwosa Ero, who was appointed as the U.N.’s first independent expert on albinism two years ago, said for too long the treatment of albinos in Fiji had been ignored despite an estimated one in 700 indigenous Fijians affected by albinism.
Ero, a Nigerian lawyer with albinism, said a lack of data on Fijians with albinism, limited healthcare services, stigma and discrimination have kept this group in the shadows.
“They’re just invisible. There has been a history of neglect, it’s not intentional, but it’s how things have operated,” said Ero, visiting Fiji to assess the rights of people with albinism, which affects about one in 20,000 people worldwide.
Albinos in the Pacific island nation are often bullied for their appearance, with some too traumatized to venture outside, said Ero.
Some husbands leave their wives if they have given birth to a child with albinism, and sometimes the children are abandoned by their parents, she added.
Yet with little or no melanin - the pigment that colors eyes, hair and skin, and protects the body from harmful effects of the sun - skin cancer is a bigger threat for albinos in the Pacific region due to the sun and a lack of specialized care, such as dermatologists.
Ero told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that said her visit highlights “the need to bring this group within Fijian society out of the shadows, and private suffering and into the national consciousness”.
Fiji’s Attorney-Heneral Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told local media this week the government was committed to providing support and resources to those with albinism.
Repeated calls to Sayed-Khaiyum and Fiji’s health ministry were unanswered.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where one in 15,000 have the condition, the body parts of albinos are highly valued in witchcraft and can fetch a high price.
More than 600 attacks have taken place in 26 African countries since 2007, with almost two-thirds of the victims being children, the U.N. says. Similar attacks have not been reported in Fiji.
Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories