The viral image of the black fetus highlights the need for diversity in medical illustrations.

Created by Nigerian medical student and illustrator Chidibere Ibe, the image has resonated with countless people on social media, many of whom said that they had never seen a black fetus or a black pregnant woman before. It also drew attention to a larger issue: Lack of diversity in medical illustrations.

(While most fetuses are red—newborns become deep pink or red, and only gradually take on the skin tone they will have for life—the medical illustration is intended to represent patients who are not accustomed to seeing their skin tones on such images..)

Ibe said in an interview Huffpost UK that he did not expect to receive such an overwhelming response – his illustration of the fetus was one of many such images he is created as a medical illustrator, most of which depict black skin tones. But it emphasized the importance of the mission to which he had long devoted himself.

“The main goal was to keep talking about what I’m passionate about – health care justice – and also to show the beauty of black people,” he told the publication. “Not only do we need more performances like this, we need more people willing to create performances like this.”

CNN reached out to Iba for comment, but he did not expand on the topic further.

Ni-Ka Ford, chairman of the Medical Illustrators Association diversity committee, said the organization is grateful to Iba for the illustration.

“Along with the importance of depicting black and brown bodies in medical illustration, his illustration also serves to combat another serious flaw in the medical system, namely the staggering disproportionate maternal mortality rate among black women in this country,” she wrote in the magazine. letter to CNN.

What is medical illustration

Medical illustrations have been used for thousands of years to record and communicate information about procedures, pathologies, and other aspects of medical knowledge. ancient egyptians before leonardo da vinci. Science and art come together to translate complex information into visual images that can communicate concepts to students, practitioners, and the public. These images are used not only in textbooks and scientific journals, but also in films, presentations and other media.
According to Association of Medical Illustrators. With only a handful of accredited medical illustration programs in North America, which tend to be expensive and admit few students, the field has historically been dominated by white males, which in turn means that the depicted bodies have typically been that way, too.
Black or

“Historically [medical illustrations] have always depicted healthy white male figures and continue to do so today,” Ford said. “The bias towards one body type in medical illustration marginalizes everyone else.”

Research has confirmed this lack of diversity. Researchers at the University of Wollogong in Australia have found 2014 study that of more than 6,000 gender-identifiable images in 17 anatomy textbooks published between 2008 and 2013, only 36% of the depicted bodies were female. The vast majority were white. About 3% of the analyzed images showed the bodies of the disabled, and only 2% of the elderly.

Why Industry Diversity Matters

Diversity in the field of medical illustrations (or lack thereof) matters, as these images can make a difference to medical interns, practitioners, and patients.

“Without fair representation and consistent use of only the white able-bodied patients depicted in medical textbooks, medical professionals are limited in their ability to accurately diagnose and treat people who do not fit this model,” Ford said. “Then healthcare professionals can rely on racial stereotypes and generalizations due to this gap in knowledge about how symptoms manifest differently on darker skin tones, leading to poorer care.”

A study by the same researchers at the University of Wollogong. published in 2018 found that gender-biased anatomy textbook images increased medical students’ scores on implicit bias tests. Another study published in the journal Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery – Global Open in 2019 found that white patients were overrepresented in images in plastic surgery journals, which the authors suggest could potentially impact the care non-white patients receive.
The study found that black adults report health care bias more frequently than whites and Hispanics.

“For decades, peer-reviewed academic publications have used photographs and images that do not adequately represent the demographic diversity of patients suffering from certain diseases,” the researchers write. “This is especially striking due to the lack of variety in medical illustrations. This disparity in medical records can have long-term implications for the availability and delivery of healthcare services.”

Ford said that those who are rarely depicted in medical illustrations “may feel left out and unrecognized in medical settings, leading to feelings of distrust and isolation when receiving care.” She also said healthcare professionals may feel less empathy for groups that are not represented — black, brown, women, transgender or non-binary — which could reduce the quality of care they receive.

Inequality in health care was well documentedwhile studies show that dark-skinned patients are more likely to experience bias as well as be misdiagnosed for certain conditions. Research has also shown that a significant proportion of white medical students and residents have false ideas about biological differences between black and white people, which can lead to racial bias in how their pain is perceived and treated.

Medical illustrator Hillary Wilson told CNN that despite the ongoing need for medical illustration to portray the diversity of people, changes are starting to occur in the field.

Wilson, whose illustrations portray blacks in infographics about eczema, sun damage, alopecia and other conditions, said both patients and practitioners can benefit from the diversity provided in medical illustrations. And through her work, she tries to humanize people of color and other marginalized groups by doing just that.

“The reality is that there are so many different types of people,” she said. “For me, the resource would not be complete if I didn’t at least take this into account and try to explain the fact that there are so many different types of people.”

While Ibe’s depiction of a black fruit seemed to mark a departure from the norm, Wilson said she hopes black skin tones in medical illustrations will become commonplace in the future.

“In the end, I hope this can be one of the expected things,” she added.