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Vitiligo has no cure but can be contained

Today, seeing a person with white or pink skin patches is a common sight. These patches look like healing skin burns. In Uganda, people with this condition are believed to have been scorched by twins (abalongo b’amwookya) because it is believed twins have super natural powers and can punish if offended.
But doctors call that skin condition Vitiligo or leucoderma. This disease dates back to the 17th Century where a black American man known as Henry Moss first reported his skin colour change. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune cells attack and destroy the colouring melanin bearing cells in the skin.

Vitiligo is not contagious and it is related to albinism except that it is albinism at a minor level. Melanin bearing cells are cells that determine the kind of skin colour you will have.

“Vitiligo usually appears in two categories. The segmental and the non segmental. Segmental Vitiligo is where the skin has simple white patches and non segmental or Vitiligo universalis is where the entire body turns white and is left with only a few dark spots,” said Dr. Kyeyune Nambatya of the Government Analytical Laboratory Wandegeya.

Symptoms

Patients suffering from Vitiligo usually report the presence of white or pink skin patches on different parts of their bodies. Commonly affected areas include the face, lips, finger tips, toe tips, genitals, legs, arms and hair. Usually, the once dark hair turns abnormally white.

Vitiligo does attack whites too.  According to Clinical Dermatology 5th edition, a book by Rona M.Mackie, Vitiligo affects 0.4% of the European population.

Vitiligo may develop as a result of trauma to the skin, high stress levels and it may also develop as a result of other autoimmune illnesses such as thyroiditis, lupus erythematosus. Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes may also lead to the development of Vitiligo.

Since Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, conditions like HIV/AIDS may accelerate its spread because the immune system has been tampered with,” Dr. Nambatya added.
Vitiligo usually affects 1 in 250 people worldwide and it usually makes its first appearance between the ages of 10-30 years. This ailment is also known to be genetic, meaning hereditary.

Treatment


“There are very many treatments available on the market but all they do is reduce its spread or intensity and there is no absolute cure,” said Nambatya. Some of these treatments include grafting of the skin. This involves surgically removing the affected skin and then replacing it with skin from a normal person.

Photo chemotherapy is also another method that could be used to treat the disorder. This involves exposing the affected areas to ultraviolet rays containing a chemical called psoralen. These methods are effective but are time consuming and may cause skin cancer.

Such treatments may be too expensive but one may resort to cosmetic camouflage. There are different ointments on the market that may help. For more information, go to www.vitiligotreatment.com.

“Treatment may vary from person to person since it may erupt due to different causes, which are usually difficult to determine,” said Dr. Nambatya.

Stigma

Vitiligo patients usually suffer from mental distress due to the stigma. According to Dr. Nambatya, intense mental distress may accelerate its spread.

“The public must accept these people the way they are and not treat them with discrimination. Those with the disease should accept the situation and learn to cope with it,” added Nambatya.

atugoonza@observer.ug

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