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Noah the Albino

Albino koala baby

Albinism (from Latin albus, "white") is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence or defect of tyrosinase, a copper-containing enzyme involved in the production of melanin. Albinism results from inheritance of recessive gene alleles and is known to affect all vertebrates, including humans. While an organism with complete absence of melanin is called an albino, an organism with only a diminished amount of melanin is described as albinoid. Albinism is associated with a number of vision defects, such as photophobia, nystagmus and astigmatism.

Albinism affects people of all ethnic backgrounds; its frequency worldwide is estimated to be approximately one in 17,000. Prevalence of the different forms of albinism varies considerably by population, and is highest overall in people of sub-Saharan African descent.

Many animals with albinism lack their protective camouflage and are unable to conceal themselves from their predators or prey; the survival rate of animals with albinism in the wild is usually very low. However, the novelty of albino animals has occasionally led to their protection and exploitation (e.g. Siegfried & Roy's white tigers, Barcelona zoo's Snowflake the gorilla). The incidence of albinism can be artificially increased in fish by exposing the eggs to heavy metals (i.e. arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury, selenium, zinc). The eyes of an albino animal appear red because the colour of the red blood cells in the underlying retinal blood vessels shows through where there is no pigment to obscure it.

In African countries such as Tanzania and Burundi, there has been an unprecedented rise in witchcraft-related killings of albino people in recent years, because their body parts are used in potions sold by witchdoctors. In Tanzania, in September 2009, three men were convicted of killing a 14-year-old albino boy and severing his legs in order to sell them for witchcraft purposes. Again in Tanzania and Burundi in 2010, the murder and dismemberment of a kidnapped albino child was reported from the courts, as part of a continuing problem. National Geographic estimates that in Tanzania a complete set of albino body parts is worth $75,000. Another harmful and false belief is that sexual intercourse with an albino woman will cure a man of HIV. This has led, in Zimbabwe, to rapes (and subsequent HIV infection).

Some Bible scholars suppose that Noah had albinism, which is why the main organization for people with albinism is NOAH (National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation). The Book of Noah is an Old Testament pseudepigraphal book, attributed to Noah. It is quoted in several places in another pseudepigraphal book, 1 Enoch, as well as mentioned in another, Jubilees (Ethiopian Orthodox Bible). There have also been fragments attributed to a Book of Noah in the Dead Sea Scrolls. One albino affectionately refers to non-albinos as "pigmentos."

Besides albinos, gays in sub-Saharan Africa are second-class citizens: Christians and Muslims in Africa routinely persecute and jail their gay citizens. As of 2014, 38 of Africa’s 54 countries have banned homosexual relationships, according to Amnesty International. From Senegal to Zimbabwe, gays have been detained, attacked by police, tortured and even killed. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

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