Thursday, August 15, 2013

Vitiligo in West Africa Part 1 of 2

I came across an article yesterday on the Madame Noire site, showing a picture of a black couple named Nicole and Brandon Wylie.

photo source
On the couple's 6th anniversary, Brandon changed his Facebook background image to one of he and his wife, Nicole, on their wedding day and thought nothing of it, but soon the couple was flooded with “likes” and messages related to the gorgeous image. It didn’t take long for the photo to go viral, and as is the case with anything on the web, the virility of the pic brought out the best in most people and the worst in some others.
See more

Anyway, their story made me think of my own mother's journey with Vitiligo. Knowing what I do about how misunderstood the disease is here in states and the role superstition plays in the villages of Guinea Bissau, I began to wonder how this disorder is accepted in West Africa.

The truth about Vitiligo
what is vitiligo:
Vitiligo (vit-ih-LI-go) is a condition in which your skin loses melanin, the pigment that determines the color of your skin, hair and eyes. Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin die or no longer form melanin, causing slowly enlarging white patches of irregular shapes to appear on your skin.

Vitiligo affects all races, but may be more noticeable in people with darker skin. Vitiligo usually starts as small areas of pigment loss that spread with time. There is no cure for vitiligo. The goal of treatment is to stop or slow the progression of pigment loss and, if you desire, attempt to return some color to your skin

The following information was taken from a two-part series, written by guest blogger Ogo Maduewesi, a woman living with vitiligo and founder of the Vitiligo Support and Awareness Foundation ( She speaks candidly about the stigma associated with vitiligo and the challenges faced by sufferers in West Africa. You can go directly to the site for her story and more information. I have included only excerpts

The Social Stigma of Vitiligo in Africa
Vitiligo is a hugely stigmatised condition, especially in Africa. Facing not only a visible, disfiguring skin problem, many patients also endure psychological, psychosocial and emotional stress from the disease and its stigma. This usually results in increased susceptibility to vitiligo: the stress of stigmatisation can often lead to further progression of the disease.

Social, religious and tribal factors play a significant role in stigmatisation in Africa. The main contributing factor to social stigma is that vitiligo is considered by many as a wrath of the Gods upon an individual. Further, because little or nothing had been heard about vitiligo in West Africa before now, people were left to make assumptions or create fantasies about the condition.

The role of ‘magic’
This is a highly religious and superstitious part of the world and, as I’ve said in an earlier post, the words of local prophets and diabolical doctors (commonly called Dibia, Babalawo) weigh heavily. Their advice plays a large part in initial vitiligo treatment, until a certain stage of the condition’s progression, by which point so many resources have been wasted that could have been put to better use.
The most common Vitiligo myth in Africa is that it's inflicted by bad or evil people through magical powers. I have been told many times that such people brought Vitiligo upon me to destroy my face so that I wouldn't be able to find a husband.
Please watch videos below

come back for the conclusion (part 2)

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