A four-year-old girl from an ethnic tribe in the Central Highlands has thick black skin and hair covering almost her entire back, but her parents are too poor to have her condition diagnosed or treated.
Many children her age in the Ja Rai village in Gia Lai Province go to kindergarten, but Ro Mah Suih stays at home because people are uncomfortable near her.
The black hair in her back seems to be spreading to her buttocks and belly and there are new black dots on her neck and chin.
Her neighbors call her “birdgirl.”
“We are too poor to know what to do,” her mother Ro Mah Suyn told Tuoi Tre newspaper.
The only thing they can do is to scratch her back, which she needs all the time.
“Whenever we’re at home, she would roll up her shirt and have us scratch her back,” her mother said, scratching her daughter’s back as the little girl drank rice water as a cheap alternative to milk.
“Hot days are the worst. We have to stay up to scratch her back and keep her cool.”
Her father said she looked like a wart hog when she was born with also a cleft palate, which was fixed thanks to free surgery in Ho Chi Minh City.
Doctors there suggested that experts at special hospitals can look at her back too.
But the farmer couple in their late 20s, who also have to take care of the husband’s old parents and an older child, could not afford further treatment.
None of their family members have a similar condition.
Ro Mah Quik, the father, said an old tribal law requires children born with abnormalities to be buried alive.
But other tribe members allowed them to keep her.
“People were very scared. The children who come to play with her also used to be scared. But they have started to get used to her.”
Nguyen Trong Hao, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh Dermatology Hospital, who has seen the girl’s photos, said she might have benign pigmented lesion due to genetic mutation.
The condition is commonly known as birthmark, and Hao said only around one out of 20,000 children has birthmark covers a large part of the body like Suih.
He said skin transplant or laser treatment could help her, but that would require multiple hospital visits given the large area of affected skin.
But the symptoms also suggest melanoma, or malignant skin tumor, which needs close medical observation, he said.