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The racial disparities in the medical community have been a hot topic over the last few years and now Hollywood veteran Angelina Jolie is opening up about how those systemic biases directly impacted her own child.
In a Time article published Wednesday, the 46-year-old actress interviewed a medical student named Malone Mukwende, who is aiming to teach others in his field how to be more thoughtful about the role that race plays when providing patient care.
Jolie shared that the 21-year-old was inspired to take on this topic after he noticed that “almost all the images and data used in its teaching were based on studies of white patients,” which often leads to “misdiagnosis, suffering and even death.”
Mukwende’s work ultimately culminated into a handbook, Mind the Gap, along with an accompanying online platform called Hutano.
“Hutano, in my native language, Shona, translates directly to ‘health,’” he clarified. “It’s a health social platform, where people from all over the world can connect to form communities and really discuss these different conditions.”
Jolie and her ex-husband Brad Pitt share Maddox, 19, Pax, 17, Zahara, 16, Shiloh, 15, and 12-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne. Given how racially diverse her children are, the actress then shared how she’s personally witnessed racial bias while seeking care for her kids.
“I have children from different backgrounds, and I know when there was a rash that everybody got, it looked drastically different depending on their skin color,” she explained. “But whenever I looked at medical charts, the reference point was always white skin.”
She then went on to share an anecdote about what took place last year when her eldest daughter, Zahara, who is Black, had surgery.
“Recently my daughter, Zahara, whom I adopted from Ethiopia, had surgery, and afterward a nurse told me to call them if her skin ‘turned pink,’” Jolie recalled about what is clearly advice you’d give to someone much fairer than her child.
Mukwende points out that microaggressions like those experienced by Zahara are “the kind of thing I started to notice very early on.”
“Almost the entirety of medicine is taught in that way. There’s a language and a culture that exists in the medical profession because it’s been done for so many years and because we are still doing it so many years later it doesn’t seem like it’s a problem,” he explained.
“However, like you’ve just illustrated, that’s a very problematic statement for some groups of the population because it’s just not going to happen in that way and if you’re unaware you probably won’t call the doctor.”
For those shocked that someone so young is taking on such a massive global problem, he responded, “I’m a big believer that age shouldn’t be a barrier. If there is a problem that needs to be fixed it doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor who has been qualified for 25 years or if you’re somebody who has just walked into the doors of medical school, as long as you are committed to the cause.”
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