World Vitiligo Day – why is it important?

Vitiligo day

Today is the fifth anniversary of the passing of revolutionary musical star Michael Jackson, who gave us unforgettable hits such as “Thriller” and “Billie Jean”. Michael Jackson also famously suffered from vitiligo (pronounced  vit-ill-EYE-go),  a disease that makes milky-white patches appear on a person’s skin.

Vitiligo affects between 65-95 million people worldwide, and yet not much is known about this disease. The lack or research may be due to the social stigma related to the disease, as well as the fact that it does not directly harm a person’s health: vitiligo is not painful, lethal or contagious, yet the psychological toll of suffering from vitiligo is considerable. The disease is usually progressive, and there are few treatments that actually produce a noticeable and sustainable repigmentation of the skin. Some of these include controlled exposure to UV rays, Vitamin D applications and use of corticosteroids as well as laser treatments and dermabrasion.

The Vitiligo Friends Network and the Vitiligo Support and Awareness Foundation proposed June 25 as World Vitiligo Day, both as a memorial to the late Michael Jackson and as a day “to create extensive awareness on vitiligo and a day dedicated to all living with vitiligo globally”. Vitiligo Day was first observed in 2011, and there is currently a petition  for the UN to designate World Vitiligo Day officially and ensure it is observed by the United Nations and Member States, as well as dedicate more funds to researching a cure for this disease.

Besides Michael Jackson, other celebrity vitiligans (the name given to those who suffer from vitiligo) include America’s Next Top Model contestant Winnie Harlow, four time Emmy Award Nominee Lee Thomas, late-night show host Graham Norton, Bollywood legend Amitabh Bacchan and American actor Jon Hamm, of Mad Men fame.

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