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UNPERTURBED: Kelly Ndebele is working on forming an organisation that will help bring people with albinism together

Like a desert flower, Kelly Ndebele’s life has blossomed into something she could not have imagined even in her wildest dreams. The happy and confident young woman overcame discrimination, rejection, despair and loneliness that came with being born with albinism and testifies to the power of attitude in transforming her life.

Although being the second born of five siblings, she grew up as the centre of attention and care because of her condition. In spite of being showered with love in the family, outside of the house, Ndebele quickly learnt that she was different. Born with albinism and growing up in Tonota, it did not take long for her to realise that she was also the target of both prejudice and wonder.

“I remember how some children would avoid me when I played outside. At school, there were times when I was not chosen for the team because some of the children did not want to be close to me,” she recalls. “The snide remarks, open stares, I saw it all and it was disheartening. When I joined junior school later, things did not change much. People still stared at me. Some fearfully. Others in shock. I always felt like I was the clown in a circus or a specimen under observation.”

The word albinism comes from the Latin word albus, meaning white. Albinism is caused by a defect in one or several genes that produce and distribute melanin. The lack of melanin is characterised by an absence of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes resulting in a light complexion. One in 15,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa have the condition. As a result of the lack of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes, people with the condition are vulnerable to sun exposure.

But in some parts of Africa, people with albinism face kidnapping, violence and murder based on the belief that their body parts can bring people magical powers, luck and wealth. Although most notable features of a person with albinism are in their appearance, the skin’s inability to protect itself from sunlight is only one of the symptoms of albinism. “One of the biggest issues people born with albinism face is problems with eyesight,” Ndebele who only went up to form three in her studies explains. Difficulties in seeing and the lack of tools to assist eyesight contribute to the high number of learning problems common to people with albinism.

In spite of the difficulties in learning, Ndebele is quick to point out that the issue lies in the lack of equipment, not capabilities. “Albinism is not related to the intellectual abilities of a person,” she said in an interview recently. Turnng to the overall situation of albinism in Botswana she emphasises that the current state of awareness and action is good and progressing, except that it tends to be limited to towns and cities.

In comparison to countries where the persecution of people with albinism is prevalent, Botswana is one of the exceptions. On the other hand, acts of violence against albinos may not be experienced, but neglect still remains critical. According to Ndebele, ignorance is most commonly manifested in the neglect of the special needs of a child with albinism. This neglect in turn results in the inability of the child to develop to his or her full potential. It is for this reason that the mother of two, currently working as a security guard, has undertaken a mission to form an association for albinos in the rural areas especially in the Northern side of the country.

“We want to create awareness as well as eradicate the stigma associated with albinism,” she says. With regards to the creation of awareness, Ndebele also hopes to see a change of perspective in the ways of discussing and representing albinism. “People with albinism are not sufferers. They are not victims, but equals.” The organisation will also focus on creating a close knit community of people with albinism.

“It’s important for us to have this space to understand each other and to share our hopes and ambitions,” she said, adding, “We are here to uplift one another.” Besides having a supportive family, Ndebele believes everything depends on confidence. “It is about loving yourself and your skin the way you are,” she says.

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BATTLE FOR MMADIKOLO

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University of Botswana students are bracing themselves for the Student Representative Council (SRC) elections. Contenders are fighting tooth and nail to appease the electorate. Three camps are in contention to fill the 13 council positions.

Umbrella for Democratic Change’s (UDC) Moono-wa-Baithuti has the onerous task of defending all the 13 seats which they hauled at the last elections of 2018. “As Moono wa Baithuti, we have lots of achievements. We are on the verge of getting the student bar open, so we need to go back and fix what we started,” said UDC’s Tumelo Legase who is vying for the position of Vice President.

He said they have advocated for student empowerment policies and are also proposing a third arm of student representation. “We have the SRC and the Judiciary, what we need is the student Parliament so that we have a large number of leaders who can independently attend to problems across the university.” The dark horse in this race is the University of Botswana’s Alliance for Progressive (AP) which will take another leap of faith despite their loss in the previous election.

They are rejuvenated and redefined. Candidate for Vice President Karabo Bokwe said central to their mandate is making the welfare of the student community a priority. “We want to help eradicate school policies that border on oppression, and through new polices call for initiatives that come with enterprenuership benefits to students.”

AP candidate for Information and Publicity, a first year Criminal Justice student Gracious Selelo said they are more united than other parties even at national level. “We don’t have internal squabbles within our party, we are more focused and can deliver our mandate easily,” she noted.

However the ruling party’s BDP GS-26 will come with all guns blazing after an embarrassing defeat in the previous elections. Preparations have been made and the GS-26 is looking to take the elections by storm.

According to their Presidential Candidate Boniface Seane, they come with the message of hope that addresses the current status quo at the University.“The university is not functioning so we drew three policies that embrace inclusiveness. We want to lead collectively with the students, through the student body meetings which the previous SRCs have failed to do. “We will consult with the students with no discrimination.”

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The Health ministry has developed a seven-point programme to guide the country in improving the healthcare system, says Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Alfred Rabashemi Madigele.

“The seven priority areas will serve as a roadmap and a guardian angel towards improving the overall healthcare system and increasing access to health care while fighting the burden of disease that confronts us,” said Madigele at Masa Square Hotel on Tuesday.

The focal areas include decentralisation; Universal Health Coverage, Tertiary Care, Strategic leveraging on the Private sector; Supply Chain; Research as well as Staff welfare and accountability.
Point-one of the seven priority areas according to Dr Madigele is about empowering the District Health Management Teams (DHMTs) and transforming them into fully fledged Regional Health Authorities.

“In this case, they will be rationalised from 27 to 18 and have the authority to hire A and B Scales, promote up to C1 and manage micro procurement,” he said. Point two is about improving the quality of healthcare services. “The main causes of mortality and their risk factors in Botswana are Primary Health Care issues,” Dr Madigele said.

He added that “Our efforts for the attainment of Universal Health Coverage should thus focus on: Prevention; Comprehensive screening; Early treatment; and Surveillance at the community.”
This he said, would require revamped grassroots efforts in which adequate numbers of community health workers through partnerships with the non-governmental sector will be deployed as necessary.

According to Dr Madigele, the top five causes of death in Botswana in 2017 were HIV/AIDS, Ischemic heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections and Diabetes. He said compared to 2007, NCDs among these had increased in burden by an average of 34%. The top five risk factors related to these causes of mortality were unsafe sex; poor diet; high blood pressure; alcohol abuse and tobacco use.

Improving the quality of care, Madigele said will also include the safety and security of patients; attitudes of staff as experienced by patients; time taken in queues either before seeing a health worker or receiving medication and the availability of drugs.

Meanwhile, the health minister revealed that the commissioning of Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital (SKMTH) is ongoing with the facility scheduled for opening on April 24th. “This will be a phased approach commencing with some services including paediatric oncology, internal medicine, rheumatology and endocrinology, diagnostic radiology, laboratory services and pharmacy”.

A phased commissioning of SKMTH will reduce overdependence on South Africa for referrals, reduce costs and also institutionalise provision of super specialist services within Botswana.

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