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B.C. man starts Canada’s first vitiligo support group

Omar Sharife, a model and actor from British Columbia, co-founded Vitiligo Voices Canada, a support group for people with vitiligo to come together and share their stories. Sharife found greater self-acceptance in recent years by connecting with others who have vitiligo and hearing their shared experiences. This inspired him to co-found Vitiligo Voices Canada earlier this year, the first support group of its kind in the country.

June is Vitiligo Awareness Month, with June 25 being World Vitiligo Day. The group at Vitiligo Voices Canada hosts regular virtual meetings for members to share their stories. During Vitiligo Awareness Month, they also posted personal stories on social media to raise awareness. Sharife emphasizes the importance of these support groups, saying they significantly help people by allowing them to speak openly about their experiences.

Vitiligo causes skin to lose its pigment in patches due to the death or malfunction of melanin-producing cells. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, 0.5 to 2 percent of the global population has vitiligo.

Omar Sharife says that living with vitiligo can be challenging without support. “It’s a condition that changes your identity,” he said, noting the mental health issues that can arise when your skin colour changes beyond your control. Vitiligo affects everyone differently. Some people might get one spot, while others experience dramatic changes. It can develop at any age, and people have varying levels of acceptance. “Everybody’s journey is different,” says Sharife.

Sharife’s message to Canadians on the eve of World Vitiligo Day on June 25th was to be sensitive and aware that everyone is at a different stage of their vitiligo journey. Several landmarks, including BC Place, Science World, the Vancouver Convention Centre, and Vancouver City Hall, were lit in purple on the eve of this international awareness day.