Climate change puts people with albinism at grave risk: UN expert
19 October 2023
NEW YORK (19 October 2023) – Climate change is having a dangerous impact on people with albinism worldwide, contributing to high rates of skin cancer deaths in some regions, a UN expert said.
“The profound impact of climate change on persons with albinism is one of the most overlooked aspects of the issue. In Africa alone, it is estimated that persons with albinism are up to 1000 times more likely to develop skin cancer than those without, with many dying by the age of 40,” said Muluka-Anne Miti-Drummond, the Independent Expert on albinism.
In her report to the General Assembly, the expert said the situation was so dire that she had been campaigning tirelessly for sunscreen to be made freely available to persons with albinism. “Sunscreen is not a cosmetic product for people with albinism – it is a life-saving medical product that can prolong and improve the quality of life for many who don't have the means to afford it,” she said.
“Deaths are preventable with good quality sunscreen and protective gear that is readily available to people with albinism. Sadly, many live in poverty and cannot afford these products,” Miti-Drummond said.
The expert and other partners have been lobbying the World Health Organization (WHO) to re-add sunscreen to its list of essential medicines. She called on States to do the same at national level.
“This is now more urgent than ever as our climate warms and UV radiation increases, making sun exposure an extremely dangerous hazard for people with albinism, especially in hot tropical climates,” she said.
People with albinism are not only susceptible to skin cancer, but they also have visual impairment and are therefore considered to be people with disabilities.
“It is well known that people with disabilities are disproportionately affected by climate-related disasters. They are four times more likely to die in climate-related disasters than people without disabilities,” the expert said.
She noted that climate disasters have led to people with albinism losing their livelihoods, working longer hours in the sun to cope with food shortages, and migrating to find climates more suited to their condition.
Miti-Drummond warned of a disturbing phenomenon involving gruesome attacks and killings of people with albinism, due to harmful superstitious beliefs by perpetrators that albinism is the cause of climate disasters. “Some attacks and killings are aimed at using body parts of people with albinism in rituals in the false belief that this will bring favourable weather conditions or better harvests,” she said.
The expert reiterated her call for inclusion of persons with albinism in all fora related to climate change in their various communities and ensuring their participation in disaster planning, management and response.
“Exclusion is not an option. Climate change is a matter of life and death for many people with albinism,” Miti-Drummond said.
The experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.