Buliisa’s only person living with albinism, Mr Solomon Sunday, has decried the social discrimination meted out on albinos in Uganda.
Mr Sunday, who is also the Vice Chairperson Buliisa District Union of Persons with Disabilities, discloses in an exclusive interview with this website that learners with albinism face continuous discrimination by fellow pupils due to the exclusivity of their skin colour.
He calls upon the government to intervene.
Since albinism is characterised by short sightedness and susceptible skin cancer due the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun, Mr Sunday who is a teacher at Kijangi primary school in Buliisa sub-county urges the government to have special consideration for learners with the disorder.
This is through providing albinos with sun cream to relatively keep at bay the UV radiation against directly hitting their skin that cannot ward it off because it lacks melanin.
He notes that most albinos are poor and cannot afford buying sunscreens to fend off the UV rays of the sun.
Mr Sunday observes that government failure to create mass awareness campaigns advocating for albinos is a major attribute to the discrimination.
However, he is optimistic that a sigh of social acceptance will be felt if government engages school authorities on special consideration for learners with albinism.
The vice chairman reveals that some marriages have broken down following the discrimination against albinos; criticising some members of society who discourage people from keeping in marriage with albinos due to their skin disorder.
Reacting to the concern, the Buliisa district woman Member of Parliament, Ms Norah Nyendwoha Bigirwa who is also a member on Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee, said that “efforts were being made to ensure that people with albinism enjoy the equal rights, privileges and all it takes like any other people in the country.”
Recently, Dr Noleb Mugisha, an oncologist at the Cancer Institute said that many of the persons with albinism tend to develop cancer of the skin because they lack melanin, a natural pigment that gives skin its colour.
Ms Phoebe Tibukuninia, a medical officer attached to the Nile Union of Persons with Albinism (SNUPA) says that last year, 18 persons with albinism were found to have developed skin cancer and needed urgent operation.
Buying sunscreen lotion for albinos is expensive with each bottle costing between Shs100,000 and Shs150,000 on the open market.
To reduce on the costs, last year, former minister of health, Ms Sarah Opendi who is currently state minister for energy said that there were plans to start locally producing a lotion to protect skins of persons living with albinism as a way of reducing skin cancer challenges they endure here in Uganda.
The lotion was being verified by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards.
Ms Opendi admitted that persons with albinism had for long been ignored but promised her support to ensure the lotion was distributed freely to the affected people.
In 2019, the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, expressed her disappointment in Uganda Revenue Authority for continuing to levy taxes on the sunscreen lotion that helps people living with albinism against the sun rays that cause cancer.
She said that Parliament directed the government to designate the lotion as medicine but not a cosmetic so that it was put under the Ministry of Health in order to make it less costly.
An albino needs sunglasses to protect their eyes against the UV light of the sun, round hats, UV protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts and sunscreen lotion.
The 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda specifically provides in articles 20 (2), 21(2), and 32(1) the legal framework for protecting and enhancing the right to equality for marginalised groups including persons with albinism.
Uganda’s Equal Opportunities Commission Act, 2007 was enacted to, among others, “give effect to the State’s constitutional mandate to eliminate discrimination and inequalities against any individual or group of persons on the ground of … colour,…..health status,….or disability, and take affirmative action in favour of groups marginalised on the basis of ..….disability…..redressing imbalances which exist against them”.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948 provides “that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.