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Individuals with albinism are unheard amid COVID-19, says R&B singer

What about communities with albinism? How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected them, and who is helping them?

The coronavirus pandemic outbreak has left people with albinism concerned about potential attacks and murders in some parts of Africa where body parts of those with albinism are used in witchcraft-related rituals that typically involve them being made into charms that are believed to bring wealth and good luck.

Attacks take different forms, such as forcibly shaving off hair, mutilation of fingers, limbs, ears and genitalia, and sometimes, murder as well, as a Zambian musician with the condition has said.

Albinism, which corresponds to a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, affects up to one in 15,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the most updated statistics released by the United Nations.

Image credit Amnesty/AllAfrica

Chiti, executive director of the Albinism Foundation of Zambia (AFZ), described his people's’ fears of attacks that can possibly rise ahead of Zambia’s general election in 2021.

There are about 25,000 people with albinism in Zambia, according to official data.

John Chiti, 35, explained that there had already been different cases of attacks being reported. These involved one murder in Zambia, where the grave of a person with albinism had been dug up and body parts stolen, and an attack to a man in the capital Lusaka last week.

“Even as we’re trying to survive this COVID-19 people with albinism have continued to be hunted,” Chiti explained.

“This is so worrying. It’s leaving us living in fear.”

In West Africa, Chiti claimed that people with albinism had also been blamed for starting and spreading the coronavirus across the cities.

“Whenever there are elections, we’ve always seen an increase in ritual attacks,” Chiti pointed out.

“Politicians who are consulting with witch doctors are being told to look for certain body parts for them to win elections so ... we’re becoming more and more worried for our lives.”

Zambian Zambian R&B singer John Chiti performs in an undated photo. Photo supplied by John Chiti/Reuters

Under the ‘Same Sun’, a charity for people with albinism, more than 200 assassinations and about 400 attacks in 30 countries since 2008 have been reported, but the charity also asserted that the violence is underreported, meaning that the cases could be up to one thousand.

Miserably, the underground cross border trade exchange body parts that can fetch high prices.

AFZ is currently holding regular meetings with police to discuss how to improve protection in the run up to the August 2021 vote.

The R&B singer, Chiti, also called for an end to impunity for those who attack people with albinism. He also said prosecutions were rare even when suspects were caught.

“We want police to speed up the wheels of justice,” he added.

The musician, who counts First Lady Esther Lungu and former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda among his fans, has produced two songs about the virus to raise awareness of its impact on people with disabilities.

Many people with albinism have poor eyesight but social distancing rules make it hard for the blind to use guides, while information on the virus has not been translated into braille, he added.

Chiti also keeps pressing the government to do more to help those whose incomes had been hit by the pandemic, reporting people with albinism stories who were self-employed or did informal jobs.


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