Chidiebere Ibe, a Nigerian Medical Illustrator, took the internet by storm when his illustration of a fetus went viral. While medical illustrations are a common occurrence, his illustration stuck out because it brought to everyone's attention the lack of representation for black people in the medical literature. Medical racism is no secret and is still rampant today if visual demonstrations of dark skin color still shock the masses. Ibe's art has undoubtedly started a much-needed conversation.
The 25-year-old is the creative director at the Association of Future African Neurosurgeons (AFAN), Young Continental Association of African Neurosurgical Societies (YCAANS), and creative director and chief medical illustrator of the Journal of Global Neurosurgery. The aspiring neurosurgeon has found a way to marry both of his passions for medicine and illustration in a way that revolutionizes medical literature.
'After this illustration went viral, I'm certain that the change would occur,' he said in an interview. However, he further mentioned that he did not expect his illustrations to go viral the way they did after posting his images on social media platforms. 'I was just sticking up for what I believe in, advocating for equality in health through medical illustrations. I made a deliberate action to constantly advocate that there be inclusion of black people in medical literature,' he told NBC.
Ibe's passion for contemporary illustrations of black patients has allowed him the opportunity to feature his work in popular medical sites WebMD/Medscape and other well-known institutions. Ibe has incredibly ambitious dreams, and his viral moment seems to have helped create a path to make them a reality. Many have donated towards his studies at the Kyiv Medical University in Ukraine. He has mentioned that he will also be launching an initiative to advocate for equal representation, diversity, and inclusion in healthcare.
Medical racism is systemic and infiltrates every level of society, going beyond just the exclusion of black people in illustrations. It is a byproduct of racial prejudice and has been prevalent for as long as racism has been present. The widespread racism against people of color within the medical system maintains dangerous biases held by healthcare workers against black people in their care. Medical racism is one of the reasons why black people, to this day, are less likely to have access to healthcare. The maternal mortality rate is rising, with more and more women dying due to a lack of urgent care in situations where complications arise during child labor. Discrimination against black people is still rife in healthcare institutions, and black people's medical needs are often taken lightly or disbelieved when expressed.
Many healthcare professionals still uphold the misinformed opinion that black and white people are different physiologically. For example, they believe that black people have higher pain tolerance, thicker skin, less sensitive nerve endings, and more robust immune systems. These myths were used to justify the inhumane treatment of enslaved people for centuries and have been proven wrong many a time and have no place in contemporary medicine. Unfortunately, however, it is proving difficult to reduce their impact on the health and safety of black patients.
People like Ibe join pioneers such as Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who, during her lifetime, achieved many firsts as a black woman in medicine. Medicine needs black people who will tirelessly work to transform the discrimination prevalent in the healthcare sector as many lives are lost due to negligence and racism. Therefore, the inclusion of black people should mean more than just having more black doctors in the field but more so that their opinions are heard and taken seriously.