In Zimbabwe, people with albinism struggle against prejudice

Brenda Mudzimu, founder of Miss Albinism Trust, walks on the streets of Harare, in this Monday, June, 8, 2020 photo. (AP)
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Updated 13 June 2020

In Zimbabwe, people with albinism struggle against prejudice

  • In nearby Malawi and Tanzania, many people with albinism are killed because their body parts are thought to bring good luck
  • Some people stare, whistle or verbally abuse those with albinism when they walk along the streets

HARARE, Zimbabwe: Each time Yvonne Gumbo, who has albinism, and her friends get together for a picture, she insists on being in the center.
“I tell them I make the picture beautiful because I am special,” she told The Associated Press at her home in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, recently.
“I have two different colors while they have one. I am black. I am white,” she said, smiling. “Who else can make the picture more beautiful?”
It’s the 22-year old’s way of fighting back against the deeply rooted myths and prejudices faced by people with albinism in Zimbabwe, where they are often ostracized, laughed at and pejoratively referred to as “white people” among other names.
While much of the world is engrossed in the race-related outrage over the death of George Floyd in the United States, Zimbabwe’s young people with albinism are fighting prejudices against the color of their skin.
In nearby Malawi and Tanzania, many people with albinism are killed because their body parts are thought to bring good luck. No such killings have been reported in Zimbabwe, which has about 70,000 people with albinism out of a population of about 15 million.
But prejudices remain deep-rooted.
Some people stare, whistle or verbally abuse those with albinism when they walk along the streets. Some believe sleeping with them can cure HIV. Many others treat albinism as a curse.
But for Gumbo, none of that bothers her anymore. These days she carries an aura of confidence she admits was absent during the first two decades of her life.
“I only started living my life two years ago. The stigma had gotten to me that most times. I felt I wasn’t as human as the others. I am now making up for those lost years,” Gumbo said. She said she only started making friends after she finished school, where she had been treated as an outcast by fellow students and even teachers.
“I was very quiet and afraid. Now my former classmates are shocked at how talkative and assertive I have become,” she said, attributing her newfound confidence to her membership in support groups.
Such programs include an annual Miss Albinism and Mr.Albinism pageant, although it has been put on hold this year due to coronavirus restrictions.
“We have to focus on success, not pity,” said Brenda Mudzimu, founder of the Miss Albinism Trust, which runs the pageant. The trust also offers career guidance workshops and support sessions for people with albinism.
“Right now we have albinos who are doctors, nurses … success stories on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus. We also have to talk about them to inspire others,” Mudzimu said.
However, the economic downturn caused by the restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19 means that many people with albinism are struggling to put food on the table, let alone afford essential items such as sunscreen, skin lotions and other medications.
The Zimbabwe Albino Association, a representative group, has been lobbying parliament to enact a law making it mandatory for government to provide free skin lotions to people with albinism.
Joyce Mutenje used to provide for her three children, who all have albinism, by washing laundry and household cleaning for traders at a busy border town before the lockdown. But now the border trade has stopped and Mutenje has run out of money to get skin cream for her children.
“This is all that’s left,” said Mutenje, holding two small tubes of lotion. She hopes to make it last for two weeks by telling the children to put the lotion only on their faces.
Obey Machona, a 21-year-old media studies student at the University of Zimbabwe, said he is an advocate of “taking back control of our lives as albinos.” He said he used to support himself and his unemployed mother with part-time photography jobs. Now those gigs have dried up due to the lockdown and items such as skin lotion have become a luxury.
“What good is skin lotion when the stomach is empty?” he asked.


Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

Updated 55 min 33 sec ago

Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

  • 246,351 cases registered since late February

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has developed a mobile app to keep track of travelers entering the country through land routes and airports to ensure a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for those testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

“The app will be rolled out in a few days,” Shabahat Ali Shah, CEO of the National Information Technology Board (NITB), told Arab News this week.

He said the app would help record symptoms of the incoming travelers and keep track of their location. It would also communicate coronavirus test results to them and check if they were violating the self-quarantine requirement.

The government was testing everyone entering the country until recently. Many travelers were kept at big isolation centers established in hotels and marquees for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to government officials, the new app will eliminate the costs associated with the old quarantine protocols and maintain a better record of people’s movements.

Pakistan has registered 246,351 coronavirus infections since late February and over 5,000 deaths.

The government has also been carrying out contact tracing to test suspected cases and sent over half-a-million text messages to those who have come into close contact with COVID-19 patients, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.

“We don’t share contact tracing numbers with the public since they keep changing on a daily basis,” Shah said, adding that people suspected to have the disease were requested to get themselves tested.

Discussing the projections, he said the numbers of coronavirus cases would keep changing but that the government’s actions had proved successful in bringing down the country’s infection rate.

“Smart lockdowns in different areas have helped reduce the disease,” Shah said, adding the decision to lock down virus hotspots was taken on the basis of data collected by the NITB.

He said that the COVID-19 curve would flatten if the government properly managed Eid Al-Adha and Muharram processions in the coming months.

According to independent IT analysts, the app would prove ineffective if “big data” was not properly analyzed.

“Developing an app is not a big deal,” Mustaneer Abdullah, an IT expert, told Arab News. “The real task is to extract useful information through the algorithms and break it down in specific categories to achieve the desired targets. The trouble is that government departments lack that kind of expertise.”

He also pointed out that such apps were hazardous to public privacy in the absence of data protection laws since they sought permission from users at the time of installation to access their photo galleries, locations and contact lists to work smoothly.

“The data collected through these apps can also be a goldmine for scoundrels. People working with government departments could leak user information to digital marketers or fraudsters with total impunity.”

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