The village of Araras, in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, has the world’s largest population of people suffering from a rare skin disease known as xeroderma pigmentosum (XP). The condition is hereditary and makes its victims extremely sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. People suffering from XP become highly susceptible to skin cancer and are unable to repair the damage caused by the sun, leaving their skin red, raw and unsightly.
Since Araras is mostly made up of tropical farming communities, outdoor work is inevitable. Most residents have no choice but to spend long hours out in the sun, letting XP take over their lives in the most horrifying ways. Out of the 800 residents, over 20 people suffer from the condition. That’s one in 40 people, far higher than the United States, where the rate of occurrence is one in 1 million. One of the reasons for this is that Araras was founded by only a few families with several carriers of the disease, who passed it on as the villagers intermarried.
38-year-old Djalma Antonio Jardim has been an XP victim for several years. “I was always exposed to the sun – working, planting, and harvesting rice and caring for the cows,” he said. “As the years passed, my condition got worse.” For Jardim, XP showed early signs of manifestation. When he was just nine years old, he developed an unusually large number of freckles and small lumps on his face. If he had had the opportunity to protect himself from the sun back then, things could have been very different today.