On July 28, 2014 a representative from the United Nations Human Rights Office came to Marshfield to interview and film Dr. Murray Brilliant, Director of the Center for Human Genetics, on the conditions of people with albinism in East Africa. The interview will be part of the UN agency’s efforts to protect the rights and lives of people with albinism. Brilliant is an expert on the genetics of albinism, identifying three of the genes associated with the condition. One of the genes, OCA2, is associated with the most common form of albinism in Africa. Brilliant has described a common mutation in the OCA2 gene in Africa, implying that most Africans with albinism had a shared ancestor. His studies estimate that this ancestor lived about 2,500 years ago.
Africans with albinism are at a very high risk for skin cancer and because of a lack of treatment, most will die from this. Unfortunately, they face even more extreme peril in East Africa, where superstition holds that their bones, hair, and other body parts can be used magically. In the past, this was largely limited to grave robbing, but in the past few years living people are increasingly targeted and murdered for their body parts. Dr. Brilliant has worked to bring attention to their plight. You can view a Learning Channel Special, now on YouTube: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YjjzKusVu8) about these people. This ancestral OCA2 mutation is carried by nearly 1 in 19 Tanzanians. Ironically, it is highly likely that it is also carried by at least a few of the murderers of people with albinism. Perhaps if the people of Tanzania knew that albinism is a manifestation of one of their ancestors, the murders would stop. Brilliant is scheduled to speak at the PanAfrican Summit on Albinism in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, in January, 2015.