Sifelani Tsiko Innovations Editor
A University of Zimbabwe chartered industrial chemist and pharmaceutical nanotechnology expert has developed a low-cost sun cream that not only seeks to protect the skin of people with albinism from the sun’s radiation but also slows down damages and infections to their skin.
Dr Joey Chifamba, who won a prize for his innovations at the just ended the University of Zimbabwe Research Innovation and Industrialisation Week, told the Herald that his ground breaking product sought to help people living with albinism who suffer from actinic (solar induced) skin damage – freckles and sunburn to various skin cancers which shorten their life spans considerably.
“No product has ever been developed to protect albinistic persons from actinic damage. The sunscreens that are given to them are designed for white skinned people and do not take into consideration specific conditions and differences found on albinistic skins,” he said.
“This makes them not very effective and not very suitable especially for all day everyday wear since albinism is a lifelong condition.”
Dr Chifamba developed a product range with about 10 different products including lotions, creams, wound healing washes, lip balms and hair protective products.
All the products were made using 5th generation emerging technologies including nanotechnology and biotechnology. The products incorporated zinc and titanium from natural sources and indigenous trees, which made them crucial and suitable for people with albinism in tropical areas.
“We employ nanosized metallic oxides sunblock’s conjugated together with nano – optimised indigenous herbs with antibacterial, antifungal and wound healing effects to create aesthetically pleasing cosmeceutical products for everyday all day use by albinistic persons,” the industrial chemist and pharmaceutical nanotechnology expert.
“In our innovation we have developed ground-breaking cosmeceuticals which are not only sunscreens but complete actinic damage retarding treatments that consider albinistic skin differences and deal with various symptoms of actinic damage including wrinkles, premature aging, inflammation, bacterial and fungal infections.”
The products, he said, were much more affordable and safer.
Dr Chifamba said the products which were developed in consultation with the Albino charity organisation of Zimbabwe and other albino welfare groups were already available to people living with albinism who are registered with the trust.
The UZ Innovation Hub was now supporting Dr Chifamba to further develop his research and innovations.
People with albinism have pale skin due to a pigment disorder that barely protects the skin from the sun’s radiation.
When exposed to sunlight, the skin of an albino does not acquire a tan. Instead, it remains light and there is a greater risk of skin cancer.
In Zimbabwe and most other African countries, this is an acute problem.
Most sunscreen products that are available in Zimbabwe are imported from South Africa and are expensive.
Retailers sell the lotion at high prices that range from US$22 and $35 for a 250 – millilitre bottle of sunscreen lotion.
This is much too expensive for most albinos who use a tube that only lasts a few weeks with intensive usage.
Even with donations for albino welfare organisations, the lotions are still not widely accessible from many Zimbabweans living with albinism, who number an estimated 70 000.
Albinos in Zimbabwe and on the continent still face great difficulties because of the high intensity of the sun’s radiation there.
In addition, Albinos in most African countries suffer from prejudice and are often rejected by their families.
In other more extreme cases, many have been killed and their bodies dismembered for ritual purposes.
In some parts of Africa, some believe albinos possess magical powers.
Albino rights activists say there is a need to improve access to skin care products for this population and promote policies that could make sunscreen easier to get and more affordable.
For years, Albino rights organisations in Zimbabwe have been lobbying the government to reduce the price of sunscreen lotions and even make them free in health facilities.