Aspiring pediatric neurosurgeon Chidiebere Ibe went viral this month over his medical illustration of a Black fetus in a Black parent’s womb after a Twitter user shared the photo. The post was liked more than 3305,000 times on Twitter and garnered praise for raising awareness of how infrequently Black people are represented in medical illustrations.
Currently, Ibe “leads creative design at the Association of Future African Neurosurgeons” and Nigerian born Ibe will be matriculating next month to Kyiv Medical University in the Ukraine. His viral medical images also prompted an offer from New York University to pursue a PhD after he completes medical school.
Per Ibe’s GoFundMe page, “I started medical illustrations to promote the use of black skin illustrations in our medical textbooks to depict a typical African person. Textbooks are essentially invincible to medical training. They walk medical trainees through conditions they will encounter during their practice. Yet, most medical illustrations are on the Caucasian skin. This lack of diversity has important implications for medical trainees and their future patients because many conditions and signs look different based on the patient’s skin colour and therefore the black skin should be equally represented.”
According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, “[a] sudy of general medicine textbooks showed minimal skin type diversity, with 4.5% of images showing dark skin.”
This disparity is astounding, when considering the fact that medical illustrations have been used for instruction since as early as “the 4th century BC or early 3rd century BC” in Hellenic Alexandria.
The Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) Diversity Chair Ni-Ka Ford says “this is an extension of medical racism…The field is so closely connected to medicine and health care, which have a lot of roots in systemic racism. So that’s a big part of it…Medical illustrations have historically have always been very predominately white and male centered.…A lot of textbooks have already been published and are already in the rounds around the world and they are very exclusionary in the visual content of people of different backgrounds.”
YWCA has defined medical racism as “the systematic and wide-spread racism against people of color within the medical system. It includes both the racism in our society that makes Black people less healthy, the disparity in health coverage by race, and the biases held by healthcare workers against people of color in their care.”
Ford and her team launched the #AMIDiversity campaign this year, “urging medical illustrators everywhere to post their work of ‘nonwhite bodies,’” and the association is planning to make this an annual campaign, in addition to aiding in the efforts to recruit more Black people into the profession.
Ibe emphatically agrees with the importance of this work, and has stated, “I believe everybody deserves to be seen…In the U.S. there are a lot of health care disparities. So this is a call to everybody that everyone should matter, and there should be health equality for everybody.”