PEOPLE with albinism need to attain education at an early age on sun preventive measures to avoid skin cancers which are becoming a biggest threat to their lives, a dermatologist has said.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
Speaking at the Albinism Healthcare roundtable meeting organized by Global Aid Missions (GAM) in Harare, Dr Mwatsveruka Munhutu who used to practice in the United States of America said there are few cases of advanced skin cancers among children with albinism.
Having practiced in Zimbabwe for the past three years attending to patients with albinism, Dr Munhutu feels education on protection from the sun for people with albinism should begin at primary levels.
I think their needs are great because at primary level, we don’t have enough education that these children need to be from the sun. And not only from the sun but from UV rays. Even on a cloudy day, a person with albinism should have a hat on because the UV rays that come out of the sun cause changes to their skin and that leads to skin cancer.
“So I would say the needs are great and there are people who have done good to help the patients with albinism but even more needs to be done. Often times, the cases that I see at Pari a Government Hospital, a tertiary, teaching institution, a lot of cases are referred to once they are sort of out hand,” she said.
She added, “I have seen very severe cases that are terminal that the cancers are no longer just in skin but have spread to their internal organs. Their liver is involved and maybe sometimes their kidneys are involved. Its really something that I am passionate about that nobody should die of skin cancer.”
Dr Munhutu also noted the importance of early screening of these cancers before they spread.
“Once it spreads it becomes too late for us doctors to do much about it because we live in a resource limited setting. And treatments become expensive, cumbersome and involve a lot of other medical specialties. And sometimes it’s not something that the patient can afford, the whole healthcare system in this country can support as yet.
“I think the main message from me as a dermatologist is to respect the sun. You know sun for those of us who are dark skinned, a little bit of sun is okay. But for people with albinism they should really be taught sun preventative measures so that their skin remains clear of the cancers that can get out of hand.” she said.
UK Albinism NGO Eyes Zim
Meanwhile, a UK headquartered non-governmental organisation Standing Voice which advocates for the health of people with albinism wants to expand into Zimbabwe after recording successes in Malawi and Tanzania. The organisation is willing to bring in financial resources, training programs and expertise in Zimbabwe for capacity development in skin cancer management.
“We are also very well versed in the management of the program so we can assist in the data management, measuring the outcomes of the program these kind of things. As an NGO this is our role. We ourselves are not doctors, we are not clinicians.
“We are an organization catalyzing the interest of these parties as interested stakeholders. We formalizing them into a structure that can provide sustainable formalized care to very very vulnerable population,” said Standing Voice Programmes Manager Mr Jamie Walling.
Mr Walling said in Malawi and Tanzania they have helped reduce skin cancers by more than 85 percent.
Global Aid Missions founder and chief executive Mrs Esther Chasi said the intended partnership will bring in a wealth of expertise from Standing Voice which they might replicate in Zimbabwe.
“We are actually hoping to solve the issue of skin cancer which has been a biggest issue because we can’t talk of albinism without addressing skin cancer.
“As you know they are very prone to skin cancer because of the sun’s rays. So we have to have a model that then deal with protecting our people with albinism from skin cancer developing. That’s the first stage.
“A lot of education, we are hoping because of the resources that they do have been using in Tanzania, Malawi already and they have had success rates. So we are hoping we can replicate the same model here,” she said.