Oculocutaneous albinism in southern Africa: population structure, health and genetic care

Ann Hum Biol. Mar-Apr 2005;32(2):168-73. doi: 10.1080/03014460500075423.

Abstract

Background: People with oculocutaneous albinism (OCA) have reduced levels of melanin in their hair, skin and eyes, with associated visual impairment and extreme sun sensitivity requiring lifelong monitoring. This genetic condition is surrounded by myth, superstition and fear in Africa, where affected individuals and their families may be rejected, shunned and excluded from their community.

Objective: This review reports population studies in southern Africa to determine the distribution of people with OCA in this predominantly rural and relatively impoverished area-crucial information for health and education providers. Health and genetic care studies document the range of eye and skin problems experienced and suggest effective and sustainable ways to manage these needs in a low resource setting.

Conclusion: Innovative genetic care programmes in northern South Africa facilitate low-cost management of albinism, raise self-esteem and promote community awareness, helping to improve the long-term health prospects and social integration of those affected. This holistic approach of dealing with albinism from both a medical and a sociological perspective could be applied in other areas of Africa where this condition is prevalent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa, Southern / epidemiology
  • Albinism, Oculocutaneous / epidemiology*
  • Albinism, Oculocutaneous / genetics*
  • Ethnic Groups / genetics
  • Gene Deletion
  • Genetics, Population
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Prejudice

Substances

  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • OCA2 protein, human