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Open Access Research article

Lack of adequate sun protection for children with oculocutaneous albinism in South Africa

Patricia M Lund1* and Julie S Taylor2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biomolecular and Sport Science, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Priory Street, Coventry, UK

2 School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Dundee, 11 Airlie Place, Dundee, UK

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:225  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-225

Published: 30 June 2008

Abstract

Background

Childhood is a high risk time for ultraviolet induced skin damage as this age group has more time and opportunity to be outdoors in the sun. Children in Africa with the inherited condition oculocutaneous albinism (OCA) are especially vulnerable due to their lack of protective melanin. They are highly susceptible to developing skin lesions that have both cosmetic and health complications, with a high risk of developing skin cancers. The study aimed to explore the adequacy of sun protection strategies of children with albinism in order to inform future provision.

Methods

Community based participatory research methods were employed to investigate sun protection strategies in 90 pupils with OCA (40 female and 50 male) boarding at a special school educating pupils with visual impairment in a rural area of northern South Africa. Hats worn and sunscreen preparations used were examined during semi-structured face to face interviews conducted in small peer groups. The resident nurse interpreted if necessary and provided additional information on monitoring and treatment of skin lesions.

Results

Participants with albinism in this study were exposed to high levels of ultraviolet radiation throughout the year and showed skin damage despite wearing protective head gear. All except one pupil possessed at least one hat, with a mean brim width of 5.4 cm. Gender differences in sun avoidance behaviour were documented, with females seeking shade during recreational periods and males playing soccer outside. Although 38% of pupils were using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating, only 12% had government sponsored tubes of SPF15 cream. Government sponsored sunscreen preparations were only provided if actively sought, involving time consuming trips to regional hospitals, with inadequate availability and insufficient supply.

Conclusion

Children with albinism living away from home in rural areas appear to have inadequate sun protection strategies. Changes in health policy could address these deficiencies. We recommend providing more detailed health care information, giving advice on appropriate styles of hat to wear and how to assess commercial SPF products. Health promotional material should also be evaluated to determine its effectiveness among user groups.