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Kenyans urged to undergo gene screening

Kenyans have been advised to go for genetic mapping to establish traces of albinism and other genetically transmitted diseases before consummating their marriages.

Experts indicate that albinism could be minimized through the process of determining the location of genes on chromosomes to ascertain the condition between couples.

It is a condition that occurs when one of several genetic defects make the body unable to produce or distribute melanin and it is inherited through families.

Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital Clinician Dermatologist Dr Joash Matonda defined albinism as the absence of melanin due to reduced production of melanin, the pigment that provides color in the hair, eyes, or skin.

He was speaking at Uhuru na Kazi government building during skin cancer screening of Mombasa County albinism community ahead of Monday’s International Albinism Awareness Day.

There are about 700 people with albinism residing in the entire Coast region with six counties of Mombasa, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Kilifi, Tana River and Lamu.

“If they do proper history checking in their families and get married to people who have no history of albinism, chances of them getting children who have no albinism is very high and vice versa. We do marriage counselling so that they don’t pick a partner with a history of albinism,” stated Dr. Matonda.

In an exclusive interview with Kenya News Agency, Dr Matonda indicated that albinism is an inherited condition with the signs present from the birth of an infant, something he said could be managed through gene mapping between couples.

“Albinism is a condition that is inherited from one generation to the other. We have two main types of albinism: ocular albinism, which affects the eye and Oculocutaneous albinism which makes people’s skin very white or pale,” he added.

He further argued that the pre-marital gene screening could help resolve cases of albinism and other diseases that are costly to manage.

Dr. Matonda also called Kenyans with albinism to stop intermarrying so as to minimize chances of transmitting of the condition to their offspring.

“Although love is a passion obsession where individuals feel affection for each, we do recommend that our brothers and sisters with albinism consider marrying other members of the society to help reduce the genetic transfer of their condition to the next generation,” he added euphemistically.

The Coast regional referral hospital-based consultant dermatologist, who conducted skin cancer screening and public health to the albinism community in Mombasa on the physical body management, also urged Kenyan society to change their mindset towards the community.

He said persons with albinism suffer from two types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma -a type of skin cancer that begins in the basal cells, which produces new skin cells as the old ones die and squamous cell carcinoma- most common form of skin cancer, characterized by abnormal, accelerated growth of squamous cells, which is curable with early diagnose.

He stated that skin cancers among albinism start with excess exposure to sun which burns or damages their skins causing alliterations that start with reddening of the skin, itchiness, blisters and skin rupture leading to penetration of the rays.

“Melanin is a pigment that helps us protect the ultraviolet A and B rays which if we are exposed to them for too long, they can cause skin cancer now that either they do not have melanin completely or the enzymes that are responsible to synthesis this pigment is insufficient, we call it enzyme tyrosine. If they do not produce enough of the pigment, the ultraviolet A rays and B rays can penetrate into the skin and cause the two skin cancers,” added Dr. Matonda.

Dr. Matonda also raised alarm over rampant stigmatization of the albinism community in the country, something he said has isolated them from the rest of citizenry.

He appealed to Kenyans to be mindful of the community whom he stated deserved full participation in the national building.

“This community is like any other members of our nation and we have to change our mindset towards them,” he added.

Dr. Matonda revealed that to avert the high cost of skin cancer, the albinism community needed to strictly adhere to a set of dos and don’ts including wearing appropriate clothes and hats and wearing sunscreen appropriately.

“They are required to be in the sun before 10am and after 4:30 pm for purpose of vitamin D. If you don’t have anything to do, stay indoors, especially to the young ones and those who have no option but work have to plan outdoor activities for morning or evening to avoid sun damage,” added Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) based Lung and Skin specialist, James Moyae.

Moyae, who suffers albinism, urged his colleagues to properly apply a set of sunscreen lotions and took them through the right procedure of applying the cream.

“You have to apply it around sun-exposed parts of your bodies. It should be applied correctly and consistently to protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation,” he stressed.

He thanked the national government for providing free sunscreen lotions, sun protective devices and free medical care to the community among other affirmative actions.

By Galgalo Bocha and Donna Asingo

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