Student creates black medical illustrations to improve education and health care

A Nigerian medical student hopes to revolutionize the industry after creating illustrations depicting black skin.

Chidiebere Ibe, 25, said he learned how to draw the illustrations and posted his photos on his Instagram page in July 2020. His image of a black fetus in his mother’s womb received more than 97,000 likes in less than a month.

Ibe is studying to become a pediatric neurosurgeon. He will start school next month at Kyiv Medical University in Ukraine.

“Almost all of the drawings were white-skinned, so I decided to fix a problem,” Ibe told FOX TV stations on Monday.

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Ibe said he realized that many physicians were unsure of exactly how skin conditions appeared on black skin because the corresponding illustrations were not available. His illustrations include different aspects of human anatomy using black skin. Some of his drawings include patients with eczema, rashes, and chest empyema, a type of lung infection.

A medical illustration depicts a black fetus inside a mother’s womb. Chidiebere Ibe said he wanted his cartoons to improve medical education and equality in health care. (Chidiebere Ibe)

“There are situations where patients are misdiagnosed because the doctor or physician has not been trained in medical school on how skin conditions appear on black skin,” he said. added. “And because of that lack of training, there are a lot of health complications.”

“A white doctor dismisses a black patient because he has not experienced the treatment of this disease,” he continued.

Ibe said many medical textbooks in Nigeria only contain illustrations showing white skin. He hopes his illustrations will also improve equality in health care for black patients.

“If we start including black medical illustrations from now on, medical students in training would be used to these drawings,” he said. “The health outcome would improve as the patient would now feel comfortable relying on doctors to deliver results.”

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Ibe said the issue of black illustrations was never addressed, which he credits as the reason his illustrations went viral. He said medical industry veterans mentioned they had never seen black artwork.

A January study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that only 4.5% of images in general medicine textbooks show dark skin.

Ibe said he has received requests from medical publishers wanting to use his illustrations. He said he was not advocating for publishers to replace white illustrations, but to juxtapose skin colors to make medical education more comprehensive.

“I hope in the near future…those medical textbook publishers will consider including black illustrations in medical literature,” he said.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.

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