Dr. Indrani Dey
(The writer is the secretary of NE States branch, Indian Association of Dermatology. She can be reached at email@example.com)
"Vitiligo" or "white spots on the body" has been a condition afflicting mankind since time immemorial. As it looks bad on a uniform skin colour, it began to be looked upon as a curse or evil by the society. History is replete with examples where any diversion from the normal state, be it physical or mental, has been ostracized by the society without any scientific justification. For doctors and medical professionals, however, many of the conditions afflicting the human race are just a little abnormality and not actually a harmful disease. Vitiligo or white spot disease is such a condition that looks bad but does not actually harm the body in any major way. However, Vitiligo continues to be a major health issue as it leads to a lot of insecurity in the minds of patients and their close ones. As it is such a visible condition on the skin, these people are often not accepted among friends and social circles. This is most unfortunate because they are absolutely healthy patients having the full potential to work, play, study and face the challenges of life but are unable to demonstrate their talent and individuality due to societal neglect and discrimination.
The World Vitiligo Day on 25th June is observed every year in memory of one of the greatest performers the world has ever produced, Micheal Jackson. He suffered from vitiligo from early 1980s until his death in 2009 and yet was the legend of his times. The love and acceptance that he got from millions all over the world made him deliver some of the best musical compositions and unique dancing style. His life stands exemplary to all the patients of vitiligo that achievements know no limits and that mental strength and self-development are indomitable against all odds. People start recognizing and appreciating once we accept and recognize ourselves in our full capacity.
On the occasion of World Vitiligo Day, the author, as a representative of dermatologist community of India, would like to put forward a few points on the disease for general awareness.
Vitiligo does not spread: It is not an infection and hence cannot spread from one person to other.
Vitiligo can strike anyone in their lifetime: Vililigo affects 1-2% of population. Just like any other disease like gastritis or headache, it can affect anyone. It is very well controlled with immediate treatment from a skin specialist. It is related to body's mechanisms so patient should not self treat themselves and instead seek expert opinion from the very beginning. Because it can happen to anyone, please reconsider before discriminating any person with this disease.
Vitiligo needs no food adjustments according to modern medicine: All kinds of food are essential for the normal functioning of the body and curtailing milk, egg etc will prevent the body from getting important protein and minerals essential for growth and development.
Vitiligo needs long treatment, sometimes up to several years: It is not an infection that will leave the body soon. It needs prolonged treatment to stabilize the body mechanisms and bring back the colour. This is a slow process. It is advisable for patients to have trust and faith in their skin specialists and appreciate the slow improvements that occur rather than losing patience and seeking treatment from quacks.
Any kind of injections given to treat vitiligo should never be taken unless given by a registered skin specialist: They are extremely risky and may cost your life.
Vitiligo is treatable in large number of cases: It is like any other disease. Most of the people respond very well but some don't. Doctors first start with medicines and see the improvement over several months. In those who don't improve, many surgical techniques are available wherein normal coloured skin is used to bring back colour in the white spots.
In most of our experience, localized areas of white spots improve very well compared to widespread vitiligo and hence we always stress on early treatment of the condition.
Children improve faster and so any suspicious white spot in children should be shown to a doctor at the earliest.
In very limited people, vitiligo affects the next generation: Many genetic factors are needed to have the disease and hence not all generations are affected. This is true not only in vitiligo but in many other diseases. Hence, Vitiligo patients are entitled to a normal life with their partners.
Changing the mindset of people has been the greatest challenge of science. While science seeks to explore new methods to overcome shortcomings and diseases, the mindset of many people tends to remain fixed even after rapid advancement of medicine and technology over the ages. Vitiligo is a condition trapped in a false mindset. On World Vitiligo Day, let's all open our eyes to this innocuous disease, accept the people living with vitiligo in our groups as friends and colleagues and move towards a healthier future. That will be befitting to the theme of 2020 "Quality of Life of Vitiligo Patients".