Sierra Leone: People with albinism face multiple forms of discrimination
By Desmond Tunde Coker
The Founder and Director of the Sierra Leone Association of Albinos (SLAA), Mohamed Osman Kamara has said that persons with Albinism in Sierra Leone face stigma and discrimination. He said that they started experiencing multiple forms of discrimination immediately they were born, and that they have been stigmatized in schools, and people use all sorts of derogatory remarks against them. He said that it is very challenging being an Albino in Sierra Leone because they are often subjected to multiple and intersecting discrimination on the grounds of both disability and colour.
Kamara said that they also face health challenges. “The lack of melanin means persons with albinism are highly vulnerable to developing skin cancer. In some countries, a majority of persons with albinism die from skin cancer between 30 and 40 years of age. Skin cancer is highly preventable when persons with albinism enjoy their right to health. This includes access to regular health checks, sunscreen, sunglasses and sun-protective clothing,” Kamara said. He said that these life-saving means are unavailable in the country, but they do not have access to them. He said recently they lost many of their colleagues who developed skin cancer as a result of direct sun rays.
When asked whether albinos are being targeted by herbalists or spiritualists for sacrifice, Kamara said that the situation in Sierra Leone is quite different, “but that is not to say it is not happening”.
A female albino, Aminata Koroma, said women with albinism face the worst form of discrimination. He said that when they work around streets people stare at them as if they are from another planet. “We have been called all sort of names which are irritating,” she said. She said that there no free healthcare programme to address condition for people living with albinism.
She called on the government to provide free healthcare coverage for persons with albinism because of their condition.
In Sierra Leone, Albinos are commonly called “Juice” and they are about 501 albinos in the country, according to data from 2014 Housing and Population Census.
But Kamara challenged the data provided by Statistics Sierra Leone relating to the number of persons with albinism. He said that they are close to 500 in the Western Area alone.
The Executive Director of the Christian Lawyers Centre (LEGAL LINK), Rashid Dumbuya Esq, said that persons with albinism are faced with discrimination and barriers that restrict their enjoyment of rights in society. The challenges of persons with albinism in Sierra Leone include skin cancer, poor eyesight, and limited access to justice, education, health and political representation in democratic institutions in the country.
Lawyer Dumbuya called on the government to adopt and implement the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa, and the newly adopted resolution by the Pan African Parliament to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of attacks on persons with albinism. He further called for effective education and awareness raising on the human rights of people with albinism.
“Also, we call on the government and Parliament of the Republic of Sierra Leone to pass a specific law that will adequately protect the rights of persons with albinism in the country especially in the area of health and education,” Dumbuya said.
He called on the government, the Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and other civil society organizations, with human rights mandate, to increase education and public awareness raising activities on the rights of persons with albinism so as to deconstruct stereotypes and existing myths.
He further called on government to ensure that persons with albinism are not discriminated in schools, and are provided with scholarship support to pursue their education to the highest level, adding that free healthcare services for albinism must also be guaranteed to help address the problem of skin cancer which gravely affects their health.
Mawusie P.I Dumbuya, Head of Communications, National Commission for Persons with Disability (NCPD), said that persons with disability are entitled to certain benefits which are stated in Disability Act of 2011,
“If you are a person living with disability, be it albinism or whatever form of disability, you are entitled to all of the provisions in the Act. For example, section 14 of the Act states that every person with disability should have free access to education at tertiary level. So, if you are living with albinism, you will be entitled to it. Section 17 talks about free medical [care] for persons with disability. If you are living with albinism of course you are entitled to that. Also, sections 19–21 talk about employment. Persons with disability should be employed. They should not be discriminated. Persons with albinism are sure of benefitting from all these provisions because they are included in the class of persons with disability,” Mawusie said.
He said that some of the health challenges faced by persons with albinism have been forwarded to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, and they are working to address them.
“We are all aware that there are challenges when it comes to the free medical for persons with disability. So, the Ministry of Health and the government are working to see how this sun skin lotion cream will be made available for them. For now, the cream is not there. But there are times even the Commission do help them with money to procure them. Of course, we are doing a lot to ensure that the cream is actually made available to all public facilities, and the government and the Ministry of Health are working assiduously to ensure that actually happens,” he said
Mawusie said that if a person with disability comes to us and says, ‘I went for a job and I was discriminated based on my disability,’ they will hire the service of a lawyer to challenge the issue in court. “But, before then, we have done public education through jingles across the country on the provisions of the Act,” he said.
Note: This story was put together with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) human rights fellowship.