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Battling Vitiligo in the limelight

 The late Michael Jackson [Courtesy]

Did you know that Michael Jackson is among the most commonly searched terms alongside vitiligo on Google Search?

World Vitiligo Day is Celebrated on June 25 annually in remembrance of the late Michael Jackson who died on the same date in 2009.

His death day was set aside to celebrate people living with vitiligo as the most famous person to have claimed to suffer from vitiligo.

The late King of Pop, Rock and Soul, was undoubtedly one of the best talented performers in the world.

His fame began at the age of 6, when he sang with his brothers in the Jackson Five group, meaning he spent almost his entire life in the public eye.

Imagine him as a young person, world famous, when white spots started to appear on his skin, including his hands and face.

Many years after rumours had made rounds about “his skin turning white” he stated he had vitiligo.

During an interview with Oprah Winfrey on her show in 1993, the moon-walk dance pioneer said his skin started to change sometime after releasing his famous song Thriller in 1982.

“I was only 24, and probably one of the most famous people on earth for my music, dancing, and music videos. Now here I am, with a disease that is changing my appearance in a very difficult way to hide,” Jackson said in the live interview.

In 1986, Jackson was diagnosed with vitiligo, a chronic skin condition that causes the loss of skin pigmentation.

Media reports indicated that the disease is rumoured to be responsible for a number of his well-known quirks, like wearing a single white glove.

His autopsy report confirmed that he had vitiligo as his skin was found to have reduced (though not absent) melanocytes, the cells active in skin pigmentation.

“There were ‘patches of light and dark pigmented areas’ on examination of his skin, and vitiligo was listed as a diagnosis in his medical history,” the autopsy report read in part.

Recently, ex-Machachari actress Clara Wamaitha, popularly known as Cindy 'Mama Stella', shared her battle with vitiligo.

"Before the show ended, I spotted some slight coloring on my hand. I wasn't keen on my skin, but later on, I came to regret it," she said.

But this would only get worse with time.

She said her condition pushed her into depression. She could not get acting roles and as a result, unable to afford proper medical care.

“When walking on the roads, people stare at me, others ask if I got burned. Sometimes I have to cover the patches with makeup just to feel comfortable, but for how long will I continue hiding?” she told The Standard.

Although she still faces financial challenges to cater to her medication, she says it is her daughter’s support that helped her embrace her skin condition and live positively.

A couple of weeks ago,  a popular Luo music producer also came out as a victim of discrimination owing to the condition of some parts of his skin.

John Erick, popularly known as ‘Woud Fibi’, went public to clarify his vitiligo condition which has been widely mistaken for HIV/AIDS symptoms.

Celebrating his 40th birthday, he narrated how he has been living with stigma because of his red lips. He said it was a skin condition caused by vitiligo.

“For sure people are fools. Who said red lips are a result of HIV/AIDS? Stop discriminating people, disability is not inability, leave my red lips alone, it is just a condition,” he posted on his social media pages.

“I expect to be in the Guinness Book of World Record for having lived for all those years with HIV/AIDS without taking ARVs,” he joked.

Wuod Fibi runs Barikiwa Studios and has produced several Ohangla talents including Prince Indah, Musa Jakadala and the late Lady Maureen.

Being an auto-immune condition, there is no treatment to clear the condition. The disease can only be managed.

“You either choose to live with it positively or just take the drugs and manage it. One thing is for sure, the disease cannot go away. The most it can do is to disappear then come back. In most cases it comes back worse,” she said.

However, some of the people with vitiligo embrace their skin color and live with it positively without taking any medication.

Chantelle Whitney Brown-Young, a Canadian fashion model known professionally as Winnie Harlow, is a public spokesperson on the skin condition vitiligo.

She was diagnosed with the disease at the age of four and after what she terms as “long medication period”, she chose to stop the medication.

Ms Brown has gone public on how she has suffered discrimination because of her skin color.

At one point she said she lost friends in primary school after their parents warned them not to play with her for fear of catching the disease.

“I could lose friends all of a sudden. Then my mother would use her makeup to cover the patches just to make me comfortable. I still wasn’t, because I would change schools every time,” she said in one of her speeches.

The 27-year-old gained prominence in 2014 after contesting on the 21st Season of America’s Next Top Model and is perhaps the most well-known face of vitiligo.

“The problem is seeing [vitiligo] as a problem from the jump. The issue was me being bullied, not me having vitiligo. It’s odd to me that people didn’t understand how rude it is to define me by my skin,” she said.


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