Protection against skin cancer for people with albinism in Africa
What is albinism?
Albinism is a genetic condition that impacts the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for colouring skin, hair, and eyes. People with albinism have a reduced amount of melanin or no melanin at all, which can lead to various issues such as eyesight problems and pale skin that is prone to sunburn. This condition is lifelong, there is no cure for albinism, but does not worsen over time.
Albinism affects individuals across the globe, regardless of their geographic location or ethnicity. In the United States, approximately one in every 20,000 people have albinism. However, the prevalence of albinism is higher in some parts of Africa, with an estimated one in every 1,500 individuals affected in Tanzania and one in every 5,000 to 15,000 individuals affected in other parts of the African continent.
Albinism in Africa
Albinism is a poorly understood condition in many communities in sub-Saharan Africa. In this region there are an estimated 200,000 people with albinism - yet they have no access to education about the importance of protecting themselves from the sun. And it is the sun that is their main cause of their vulnerability. Skin cancer ends the life of nine out of ten people with albinism before reaching the age of 30. However, they also suffer in other ways, they are discriminated against for their appearance and persecuted by the influence of violent superstitions.
Their situation most often condemns them to extreme poverty where their only option is to earn a living working outdoors where they are exposed to intense UV levels over prolonged periods of time. The problem is compounded by the fact that albinism is not included in health education programs, which causes a total absence of information about the condition among communities.
Access to sun protection measures, in particular sunscreen is also an issue. In most cases sunscreen is only available through centralised referral hospitals to which only privileged people have access. Not only that, but the sunscreens that are available are often poor quality, and when distributed there is no accompanying guidelines about how to apply them. Furthermore, travel to collect sunscreens often involves long journeys that are both expensive and dangerous.
How is Croda helping support these communities?
Croda is involved in two ways, one is through our work with the Pierre Fabre Foundation, and the other is through the Croda Foundation in support of Beyond Suncare.
You can read in detail all about Beyond Suncare on the Croda Foundation website here, but here is a summary of the work that they do, the project and the impact it has had so far.
Beyond Suncare is a charity that has been working for over a decade to improve the lives of people with albinism by ensuring they are protected from skin cancer and discrimination. The charity collaborates with local communities to design innovative and sustainable solutions to create equal opportunities for people with albinism. In recognition of their approach their service model has been declared Best Practice by the United Nations. One important project that the charity has established is the Beyond Protection Package. This project has a two-pronged approach - locally produced customised creams and education about the importance of sun protection.
Recently, the Croda Foundation awarded Beyond Suncare a grant of £30,000 to fund a project that will reduce the risk of skin cancer for 500 people with albinism in Uganda's Bugisu sub-region. The project includes training 90 health workers and caregivers, promoting self-care measures, and increasing the usage of sun-protective materials. The goal is to produce a model that can be replicated throughout Uganda to ensure people with albinism have access to the right support and care.
What has the impact been so far?
To date 80 health workers have been trained: 15 Clinicians, 33 Senior Health Officials, 13 Public Health Workers, and 19 Nurses.
257 people with albinism attended the 9 clinics organised in the 9 districts. 9 people have already been diagnosed with skin cancer and have been referred for treatment.
The project in Bugisu is minimising the incidence of precancerous lesions among people with albinism in the region as well as normalising the condition of albinism, contributing to and promoting social inclusion. A high percentage of persons with albinism are accessing sunscreen lotions and dermatological services for the first time and are benefitting from the education sessions to change their habits for further protection.
Pierre Fabre Foundation
The mission of the Pierre Fabre Foundation is to enable communities from less advanced and emerging countries, as well as those plunged into severe crisis by political or economic upheaval and/or natural disaster, to access the quality and levels of everyday health care and the widely-used drugs defined by the WHO and other organisations as essential to human health. In their dermatology programme they train health professionals, develop diagnosis and participate in prevention of social and health risks for people with albinism. In this way the Pierre Fabre Foundation contributes to filling the gap for the management of skin diseases in Africa. To read more about the foundation, click here.
Working in partnership with Pierre Fabre Foundation, we have provided our broad-spectrum titanium dioxide-based UV filter (SolaveilTM SpeXtra) to help them support a community of 1,200 people with albinism across Togo, Uganda, and the Ivory Coast, in protecting themselves against the harmful effects of UV rays.
In Togo this support has been in partnership with ANAT (Association Nationale des Albinos du Togo) the main organisation in Togo for people with albinism, which is also run by people with albinism. To contribute to the improvement of their living conditions, ANAT has implemented the following activities:
• Dermatology consultation campaign in two regions in Togo
• Local production of sunscreen
• Awareness campaign for people with albinism and their families.
By working alongside a consultant, our technical expertise was key in developing a formulation for ANAT’s sunscreen project. A challenge my formulation colleagues relished, using their expertise to fulfil Croda’s purpose for such a deserving cause. You can find more about ANAT and they work they do here.
Living with albinism can be challenging, but with proper management and support, individuals with this condition can lead healthy, fulfilling lives. It's important to raise awareness about albinism and its impact on those living with the condition. By educating others and promoting acceptance and inclusivity, we can create a more understanding and compassionate society for everyone.
If you would like any more information on the topics discussed in this blog, or support in your sunscreen developments, do not hesitate to contact us so we can put you in touch with one of our experts in your area.