World Vitiligo Day 2018: Hope For the Future

To mark World Vitiligo Day 2018, Dr. Phillip Artemi, one of Australia’s leading dermatologists and Director of The Vitiligo Centre Australia joins Health Professional Radio to promote greater understanding and awareness of vitiligo in order to help stem the growing trend of bullying and low self-esteem amongst sufferers.

Dr. Phillip Artemi is one of Australia’s leading dermatologists and Director of The Vitiligo Centre Australia (VCA) and Head of Vitiligo Surgery at the Skin Hospital Westmead –
the first of its kind in Australia that provides specialized care for vitiligo sufferers and conduct research to improve treatment of the condition which affects more than 300,000 Australians, 80% of whom are under the age of 30.

– TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW –

Tabetha Moreto: Hello everyone, welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host for today, Tabetha Moreto. Our guest today is Dr. Phillip Artemi, Leading Australian Dermatologist and Director of the Vitiligo Centre Australia. To mark World Vitiligo Day, he is calling for greater awareness and understanding of the condition to help stand the growing trend of bullying and low self-esteem among sufferers. Without further ado, welcome to the show Phillip. It’s so nice to have you here.

Dr. Phillip Artemi: Thank you for having me Tabetha. How are you?

T: Wonderful. Thank you so much for asking and it’s my pleasure for you to be on the show. So can you tell the audience more about yourself and your organisation?

A: I am a specialist dermatologist. I am the Founder and Director of the Vitiligo Centre Australia in Western Sydney and I’m also a visiting medical officer at the Skin Hospital in WestMead Sydney, where I’m the surgeon and I’m the Head of the Vitiligo Surgery Department and I run a specialist vitiligo clinic there also.

T: That’s fantastic to hear. So doctor, how prevalent is vitiligo in Australia?

A: It’s very common. The overall incidence is said to be 1 to 2%. So that would mean, we’ll have a minimum of about 250,000 Australians who suffer with vitiligo. But the incidence is probably hard because the condition is under reported. A lot of patients don’t see a doctor because they don’t think anything can be done. So some people think, the incidence is over 5% which is very significant.

T: I see. So as we know, vitiligo is a skin disease. So is there any treatment or cure for this?

A: Well there’s no cure for vitiligo at the moment but there are a number of treatments. Now the treatments of course have to be tallied to the patient – is it a child? Is it an adult? Is it localised? Is it wide spread? But there are a lot of treatments. But the important thing about treatment is the early you get to the patient, the better the outcome in terms of putting the breaks on the overall process and in terms of helping repigment the skin which is obviously lost in pigment.

T: I see. So how can patients manage their condition?

A: Well I think with all these things, you start with your general practitioner. That’s your first point of call. Your general practitioner make comment some treatments in more localised cases. But if there’s some warning signs that these could be an unstable vitiligo, I mean it could spread, you really need to seek urgent referral and some of those cases will include vitiligo which is increasing by 5 to 10 lesions per month. We also speak of vitiligo which has lot of inflammation around that’s unstable. We speak of particular types of vitiligo which has multiple colors they call it, “Trichromes.” So you start with your GP and you seek urgent referral with your GP’s help for treatment which will be for the skin and for the potential psychosocial impact of the condition.

T: That’s good to know. Now if you don’t mind Phillip, can I ask you a personal question?

A: Please.

T: Why are you so passionate about helping people with vitiligo? Why are you so passionate about promoting this and raising awareness?

A: Well my dermatology career has always been focused around search for treatments associate with dermatology. And in 2015, I took an interest in a procedure called “Otologist Melanocyte Transplant” where we can try and harvest skin from the normal colored areas of the body, process that in laboratory and transplant that back into vitiligo. But interestingly the more I started to do that, the more I started to talk to the patients about their vitiligo. And actually, I was really upset by some of the things I heard or saw. For instance children ostracised at school, children bullied in school, people who are to be engaged to be married who had their engagement broken off because of their skin, because of the genetic implications on offspring, parents who are fraud with fear of kids being stared at etc. so I sort of got attached of the emotional side of the condition which may be one of the more than just the surgical side.

T: Wow, that’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that story with us. It’s a good thing to know that someone like you is really keen on promoting vitiligo awareness.

A: Thank you for that. I think it’s important we promote it so patients have a voice, patients know that their GP is aware, patients know that people are interested in research in the condition because we’re really have to have better research, have better treatment and we need to be aware that it’s not just a skin condition, it’s not just cosmetics that we can help them with these psychosocial aspects of the condition.

T: Yes, I agree with you on that and it’s so unfortunate that a lot of people are being bullied especially children because of this condition.

A: Well it’s like society in general, we tend to not like people who are different. So my approach in vitiligo is you obviously treat these people like you would someone with a different sexual preference, someone with a different religion, someone with a different skin color. Everyone is equal, we’re just a bit different.

T: I love that message, everyone is equal. So before we go doctor, what is your main takeaway message to all of our listeners out there? What would you like to tell them especially if there are anybody listening out there who has vitiligo?

A: Well I think the people with vitiligo, you have a voice. Say your concerns to your GP and ask to be refer to specialist with an interest in vitiligo. And you need to understand the best treatment is to use a holistic approach. We need to look at things like your vitiligo if yes, we need to look at your diet, there are some evidence that diet can help. We need to look at your psychosocial situation. But for GPs listening, you need to be educated and we’re happy to help. The Vitiligo Centre can provide brochures, and posters and online information and that way we think we all work together to get the best outcome for the vitiligo sufferer and for their family who are often the forgotten victim in vitiligo.

T: Fantastic. And one more question, for those who want to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

A: Well if you log on to vitiligocentreaustralia.com.au, that’s a brand new website. There’s an avenue there for general practitioners to refer and there’s an avenue there for us to take some inquiries from anyone with vitiligo and you can call us on that number and speak to our staff.

T: Fantastic. Thank you so much Phillip for coming on the show, it was wonderful having you.

A: Thank you Tabetha, lovely to speak to you also.

T: And that was Dr. Phillip Artemi. If you liked this interview, transcripts and archive are available at www.hpr.fm. We’re on all social media platforms so don’t forget to follow, like and subscribe. Show us some love by subscribing to our HPR YouTube channel. We’re also available for download on SoundCloud and iTunes. I’m Tabetha Moreto and you’re listening to Health Professional Radio.

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