UGANDA: Covid-19 Lockdown Affecting Accessibility of Sunscreen Cream To People With Albinism in Uganda

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Pat Robert Larubi (in brown boots), an activist seated with a family with two children living with albinism

“I got sunscreen from one foundation in United Kingdom called ‘Advantage Africa’ which produces a lot of ultra -sun sunscreen; and what happened is, we were not using them. And I thought, since there was issues of public transport, I took an initiative to ride on my motorcycle to make the sunscreens accessible to every person with albinism across the country and to make the sunscreen affordable by giving them out at no cost.”

As the world prepares to celebrate the ‘International Albinism Awareness Day’ on Saturday 13th  2020, a number of persons living with albinism in Uganda are still facing many challenges including the access to sunscreen cream which protects their delicate skin from sun burn. Sunscreen cream offers skin protection against radiation for people living with albinism because they have pale skin due to pigment disorder.

To access the sunscreen cream, a person living with albinism in Uganda has to travel to Kampala Capital City to buy one. He/she has to spend not less than UGX 100,000 (about US$ 27.00)  on transport alone and another UGX 80,000 (about US$22.00)  to buy the sunscreen, an expense that most of them can’t afford, considering the fact that majority of them come from humble backgrounds.

The ban on public and private transport as a measure to curb down the spread of Coronavirus in the country worsened the situation since the movement to buy the sunscreen cream was temporarily stopped.

The situation now is no different since transport fares to different destinations has been doubled after the ban on public transport was lifted last week on condition that they carry only carry half its capacity. A person living with albinism who earns less than a dollar per day cannot afford to buy the cream but are now forced to endure the scorching sun.

Mr. Jonathan Lukwiya Labongo, the focal point person for people living with albinism in Gulu district says that accessibility to the essential skin protection cream has greatly been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown as a measure to curb down its spread.

Lukwiya reveals that there are 35 people living with albinism in Gulu but majority have been lacking the sunscreen cream for the last three months due to the lack of accessibility.

“The last sunscreen we received got done, another volunteer came in after that and gave out some that we gave out to the people but also got done. Now when the lockdown was enacted, it found us with no sunscreen at all. So we have been getting problems of access to the sunscreen”, says Lukwiya during a press conference held at the Northern Uganda Media Club premise in Gulu.

He disclosed that this has led to skin disorders like rashes and dark spots and also affected their normal activities under heat.

Fiona Lakica, a sixteen year-old girl living with albinism from Paicho Sub -County in Gulu District said that the lockdown has not only affected accessibility to the sunscreen cream but also income for buying the cream by their families.

Barbra Anyinyi, 28 year-old woman living with albinism and a resident of Lira Town revealed to Black Star News that there are over 40 persons living with albinism in Lango Sub –Region and that majority of them depend on sunscreen cream donations by Non –Governmental Organizations that work with persons living with albinism.

“Most of these people cannot afford to travel up to Kampala to buy the sunscreen cream since they are poor and living in rural areas. “During the lockdown, almost all persons living with albinism in this region went through without the sunscreen cream”, says Anyinyi.

According to Anyinyi, she used to travel to Kampala to buy the sunscreen cream herself but following the outbreak of the pandemic in the country, she can no longer travel to buy one due to challenges of transport.

According to Betty Akello, a resident of Lira town has three children living with albinism aged 20, 16, and 13 respectively, the lockdown that crippled transport system and has forced her three children living with albinism to use the ordinary body lotions as a alternative to sunscreen as the only tin of sunscreen cream that they were sharing got finished. “Their skin problems increased.” She disclosed

Akello also reveals that due to the shortage of sunscreen cream, her three children would only work in the family garden till 9 O’clock when the sun has not become too hot for them to bear. A tin of High Sun Protection Factor (High SPF) costs between UGX 80,000 and UGX 85,000 (about US$ 23.00) in the open market. However each tin can last for not more than one month.

Pat Robert Larubi, an activist for people with albinism and communication officer for Source of Nile of Persons With Albinism (SNUPA) says that they have received over 1,000 tins of sunscreen cream to distribute to 500 most vulnerable persons with albinism in the country during this period that the country is battling Coronavirus.

“Uganda went into a lockdown when COVID -19 broke out and ban of public transport was the biggest challenge. To us who have been working with persons with albinism, we found a very big challenge. People with albinism were crying out for the need of sunscreen which is an essential product for their survival but they could not access. The other second problem is, most of these persons with albinism do not know where to find the sunscreen” , says Larubi.

Larubi who, for the past three weeks has traversed the country on a motorcycle to deliver those sunscreen creams at the door steps of the persons living with albinism, says the donations will relief those persons with albinism from burden of travelling to Kampala to buy one.

“I got sunscreen from one foundation in United Kingdom called ‘Advantage Africa’ which produces a lot of ultra -sun sunscreen; and what happened is, we were not using them. And I thought, since there was issues of public transport, I took an initiative to ride on my motorcycle to make the sunscreens accessible to every person with albinism across the country and to make the sunscreen affordable by giving them out at no cost.” Said Larubi

SNUPA in partnership with Pats Journal are being assisted by Advantage Africa under the Action for Albinism Campaign and will freely provide each person living with albinism with three tins of sunscreen cream to assist them during the lockdown.

There are over 5,000 people living with albinism in Uganda, but only few have been documented and given assistance by the Non-Governmental Organizations.

The theme for this year’s International Albinism Awareness Day is ‘Made to Shine’. The theme was chosen to celebrate the achievements and successes of persons with albinism worldwide. It is also a call to stand in solidarity with people with albinism through their challenges.

 

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