There are more cases of albinism in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else on Earth, per the Washington Post, and in Malawi, a violent sidebar to this phenomenon has emerged over the past year and a half. People there with the hereditary condition—marked by a reduction or faulty distribution of melanin, which lends pigment to one's eyes, skin, and hair—have been raped, harassed, and slain, with at least 18 albinos murdered during that timeline (CNN notes that four, including a baby, were killed in April alone) and five albinos still missing. And, in a gruesome twist, the body parts culled from these murders are often sold to witch doctors and others to feed superstitious beliefs, fetching as much as $75,000 for a "complete set" (including all four limbs, ears, nose, tongue, and the genitals), per the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
This macabre practice and treatment of albinos overall arises from the rampant superstition surrounding the condition: A dangerous belief that having sex with an albino woman can cure HIV has led to rapes, while another myth centers on albino bones containing gold, magical traits, or medicinal properties, the Post notes. And what is local law enforcement doing to protect the albino population in Malawi? Not much, per Amnesty International, which claims in a new report that the government and police are doing almost nothing to educate citizens or keep the albino population safe from "albino hunters." The problem is getting so bad, in face, that one albinism expert tells Al Jazeera she fears the worst: albino extinction in certain areas of southern Africa, a possibility even put forth by the UN, per CNN. Meanwhile, albinos continue to live in daily fear. "Why should people hunt me like they're hunting for animals to eat?" a board member of an albinism advocacy group in Malawi says, per CNN. (Tanzania has suffered from the same issue.)