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Women fall victim to blight of skin bleaching

Tuesday June 11, 2024

(ERGO) – Saido, 25, (her real name has been concealed for her privacy), is a distressed victim of skin bleaching products that have become widespread in many parts of Somalia, including in Qardho, Puntland, where she lives.

Saido told Radio Ergo that she has been to numerous doctors without being successfully treated, ever since her skin started to peel off two days after she started using a skin whitening product. When she asked them, the people who sold the product to her said they couldn’t help her.

Due to the severe skin condition that she developed, she started avoiding public places out of a feeling of shame.

“I got mental problems because people didn’t want to associate with me, they used to be shocked at seeing my veins protruding from my skin. I became very sick several times. When I visited doctors they advised me to stop using these products because they would leave lasting effects,” she said.

Saido said her doctors’ estimation that recovery would take about three years made her very anxious. She has been trying to find another doctor with an alternative solution but has not found one. She has spent about $1,500 on medical consultations and treatments and says she feels very tired as well, which has exacerbated her anxiety.

Saido told Radio Ergo that she was influenced by her friends to start using the skin whitening products but regrets the decision every day. She now just prays for the best.

“I have suffered various health problems, my body’s immunity has dropped, I get sores that never seem to heal, I can’t bear being in the sun, and I can’t stand being in the heat of the kitchen. Also, my sores never heal,” she said.

Saido has started raising awareness on the effects of these products among other women. She has created an online platform where she talks about the dangers of these chemicals.

Another Qardho resident, Fadumo, 28, (also not her real name), has also been harmed by the skin bleaching products that she started using in December 2022.

She bought the product from an online vendor without knowing anything about the health risks. She hoped it would clear the pimples on her face, as the product advertising promised. A week after she started using it, she saw sores erupting on her face that didn’t seem to heal. She tried various medicines to treat her face but has not found anything that works.

“The product was in plastic casing, I didn’t know the people selling it, I saw it on TikTok and made the purchase for $46. After I started using the product, I woke up one day with sores on my face. My body and face were all different colours, I had constant itching on my face, and I started to get worried,” she said.

Fadumo said her family blames her for her problems and constantly nags her about what pushed her to buy such products. Her parents took her to various doctors, who said her cells had been damaged by the chemicals and it would be hard to treat her.

She also developed allergic reactions that are said to be caused by reaction to the chemicals.

“I remember for six months I stayed at home due to the stigma I was feeling. Then I then came out using a face veil as I wasn’t confident about my face. I wouldn’t attend weddings or take photographs. Sometimes I would hide away from our neighbours when they came to visit us.

I thank God, I am better now, if you look closely at my face, you can see some black spots, but I am better,” she said.

Still, however, she struggles with taking showers, saying that she feels pain whenever her body comes into contact with water.

A new study conducted in February 2024 by doctors in Qardo has shown increasing health related risks from women’s increasing use of skin lightening products.

Dr Mohamed Omar Hareri, the lead researcher in the study, who also works at Qardo general hospital, said they have recorded 487 patients in Qardo health centres affected by the chemicals from skin bleaching products. An even bigger number of women are using the products but have not necessarily gone to a health centre to seek treatment.

Dr Mohamed said doctors can only try to lessen the symptoms but cannot reverse them.

“The harm that comes as a result of bleaching is correlated with the chemicals in the products. People can get thinner skin layers and the veins become exposed, there is swelling of the body, high blood pressure, and sometimes cancer that can affect the skin, kidneys and lungs. The first step to treat these people is to stop them from using the products and to take certain medication. But if they have kidney failure or cancer, the chances of being able to treat them is low,” he said.

Dr Mohamed said most women who use these products don’t know the chemicals are dangerous beforehand and only find out when they start to experience adverse effects.

Although these products were common in towns, they are quickly spreading in rural areas as well.


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