(While most fetuses are red in color — newborns come out dark pink or red and only gradually develop the skin tone they will have for life — the medical illustration is intended to represent patients who aren’t used to seeing their skin tones in such images.)
“The whole purpose was to keep talking about what I’m passionate about — equity in healthcare — and also to show the beauty of Black people,” he told the publication. “We don’t only need more representation like this — we need more people willing to create representation like this.”
CNN reached out to Ibe for comment, but he did not expand on the topic further.
Ni-Ka Ford, diversity committee chair for the Association of Medical Illustrators, said that the organization was grateful for Ibe’s illustration.
“Along with the importance of representation of Black and Brown bodies in medical illustration, his illustration also serves to combat another major flaw in the medical system, that being the staggering disproportionate maternal mortality rate of Black women in this country,” she wrote in an email to CNN.
What medical illustration is
“Historically [medical illustrations] have always featured white able bodied male figures and still do in the present day,” Ford said. “Bias towards one body type in medical illustration marginalizes everyone else.”
Why diversity in the field matters
Diversity in the field of medical illustrations (or lack thereof) matters because these images can have implications for medical trainees, practitioners and patients.
“Without equitable representation and the perpetual use of only white able bodied patients depicted in medical textbooks, medical professionals are limited in their ability to accurately diagnose and treat people who don’t fit that mold,” Ford said. “Medical professionals can then tend to rely on racial stereotypes and generalizations because of this knowledge gap on how symptoms present differently on darker skin tones, leading to poorer care.”
“For decades, peer-reviewed academic publications have used photographs and images that inadequately portray the diversity in demographics of patients affected by particular diseases,” the researchers wrote. “This is particularly striking in the lack of diversity in medical illustration. These inequities in medical reporting can have lasting downstream effects on the accessibility and provision of healthcare.”
Ford said that those who aren’t often depicted in medical illustrations “can feel left out and unacknowledged in a healthcare setting, leading to feelings of distrust and isolation when receiving care.” She also said that medical professionals might feel less empathy for groups who aren’t represented — people who are Black, brown, women, transgender or nonbinary — which can lessen the quality of care they receive.
Despite the persistent need for medical illustrations to depict the full scope of human diversity, the field is beginning to see changes, medical illustrator Hillary Wilson told CNN.
“The reality is that there are so many different types of people that exist,” she said. “To me, a resource isn’t complete if I didn’t at least consider that and try my best to account for the fact that there are so many different types of people.”
While Ibe’s image of the Black fetus seemed to mark a departure from the norm, Wilson said she hopes that in the future, seeing Black skin tones in medical illustrations will become routine.
“Eventually, I hope it can just become one of the things that’s expected,” she added.