Illustrate Change: How a Viral Image Sparked a Movement for Health Equity

Less than 5 percent of images in medical textbooks show dark skin

Over the past five years, we have seen incremental advancements in representation, with more diversity and inclusion in film, music and literature. But one crucial area has lagged behind: healthcare. Less than 5 percent of images in medical textbooks show dark skin. And when dark skin is represented, it's often used to depict sexually transmitted diseases. Black people have higher mortality rates for six common types of cancer, but appear in less than 25 percent of images depicting cancer.

Then, Chidiebere Ibe, a Nigerian medical student and artist, created an illustration of a Black fetus inside its mother's womb. Struck by the realization that many had never seen themselves represented in medical imagery like this before, it went viral around the world.

That illustration left us in tears. Our teammate, Shamel Washington, called us after the birth of his baby boy and said, "I don't see my wife, my son or myself in any of the images at the hospital." We immediately realized the human impact a single image can hold.

One depiction sparked a conversation that had the potential to change the world. But one image is not enough.

We thought, "What if we could create the world's largest library of medical illustrations representing people of color?" So, we reached out to Chidiebere to see if he would be interested in collaborating on a concept called "Illustrate Change." When he heard that two of the world's largest companies were already behind the idea, he agreed to serve as chief medical illustrator. Alongside Johnson & Johnson and Deloitte Digital, we got to work.

Over the last year and a half, the Deloitte Health Equity Institute helped shaped the strategic direction of the program, led cross-sector collaboration and facilitated the medical review process, while a diverse team of designers, copywriters, art directors and developers from our team crafted the library. Chidiebere created 25 beautiful new medical illustrations, representing 23 conditions across dermatology, maternal health, eye disease, oncology, general health, orthopedics and hematology.

Chidiebere sparked a movement. Now, it's up to us all to scale it.

To further this mission, J&J and the Association of Medical Illustrators launched the AMI Diversity Fellowship. It will nurture the training and education of 10 medical illustrators from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and support the creation of 100 new illustrations over the next year.

The fellowship is a call for the next generation of design talent to join Illustrate Change, grow the digital library and help us close the representation gap. Will you join us?

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Aaron Sidorov
Aaron Sidorov is group creative director at Deloitte Digital.

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