This is the second blog in a two-part series by Ogo Maduewesi of the Vitiligo Support and Awareness Foundation (www.vitsaf.org); to view the first part, click here. In this post Ogo continues her discussion about the types of difficulties West Africans with vitiligo confront on a daily basis.
Although people – particularly in my country, Nigeria – will always give you the impression that they don’t have an issue with vitiligo, many do segregate or ostracise those with the condition, especially in the rural areas. There is a social stigma attached to vitiligo, affecting the social well-being of patients. Especially in African countries, where the people are dark-skinned and the contrast to their natural skin tone is more obvious.
Parents and elders have not helped matters. You see them warning their children and charges not to go near other children or people with vitiligo, as if it were contagious or a ‘curse’ might befall them. This video is based on one such true story:
On another occasion, a parent shared with me how her daughter’s school called her to enquire about the white patches which had suddenly appeared on her daughter. Other parents were threatening to withdraw their children if her daughter was not removed from the school.
Perhaps the worst stigmatisation of vitiligo occurs in rural and remote Africa. For people living in these areas and villages the social stigma and isolation is even greater. Most of them cannot join in meetings or activities and some are even ex-communicated, faced to live in oppression. They have no support from their families who believe that they bring shame. All of this has roots in supernatural beliefs because people refuse to see and understand life from its true and natural perspective. They think the wrath of the Gods is at work and want to avoid contracting vitiligo themselves.
The height of ignorance is such that people mistake vitiligo for a contagious disease. One man with vitiligo told me how a prophet warned him to stay away from his own family for the danger that he would infect them all. These people fail to understand that the person suffers, not only externally, but also experiences internal psychological trauma and depression.
Vitiligo is a non-contagious skin condition that occurs in all sexes and races equally. The myth about vitiligo being contagious is likely the result of a common fear: people stay away from anything different. This is typical, not only of Africans, but of the whole human race.
Editor’s note: The embedded video above is part of a series created by VITSAF to help combat the social stigma of vitiligo in West Africa. You can view all five videos in this series below:
VITSAF is also working on a documentary entitled More to Life – A Documentary on Vitiligo, keep an eye on the Youtube channel above for more information.
‘The road ends here’ uploaded to flickr.com by ‘Barefoot In Florida’ on 25 December 2009, <http://www.flickr.com/photos/i_level_news/4668168146/in/photostream/>.