Despite being in the midst of a messy custody battle, actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie is doing her part to shine a light on medical inequality and the importance of bees. Last week she donned a chic white beekeeping suit and spoke to the graduates of the French Apidology Observatory and presented them with their diplomas. This event was a follow-up to her stunning National Geographic photo shoot to launch a program by the United Nation’s UNESCO and Guerlain to train and support female beekeeper-entrepreneurs worldwide.
In addition to this philanthropic effort, Angelina and medical student Malone Mukwende also bring attention to the differences in medical treatment between patients with Black and brown skin and those with white skin. As a contributing editor for Time, Jolie shared how the gap has affected her own family and discussed the consequences for others in an interview with Mukwende on June 22.
Mind the Gap Initiative Brings Awareness
Many medical schools don’t instruct on the differences in symptoms, diagnoses, and treatment between races. The Time article relates Mukwende’s experience as a medical student and the questions he posed when encountering the limited information. When learning about a particular disease such as skin rashes, the materials always referenced the effects on white skin.
Because of these gaps, Mukwende and some of the university staff members gathered photos and information on how darker skin responds. They compiled everything into a handbook called Mind the Gap in an attempt to address these discrepancies in medicine. The interest in the handbook sparked an online health platform called Hutano. These are great educational tools for people to better educate themselves on health and skin conditions that up until now have only ever been shown on white skin in medical texts.
Angelina’s Daughter Faced Bias After Surgery
In the course of the interview, Jolie explained to Mukwende that her eldest daughter, Zahara, whom she adopted from Ethiopia, recently had surgery. Afterward, a nurse told her to call if Zahara’s skin turned pink. This echoes her earlier struggles in trying to find answers to medical issues concerning all three of her adopted children.
Jolie explained: “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. But whenever I looked at medical charts, the reference point was always white skin.”
Mukwende clarified that, because of the differences in how conditions affect diverse skin tones and the lack of reliable information around that, many people have been misdiagnosed and suffered unnecessarily. He also identified the difficulties of looking at evidence for medical studies, and where that information is coming from, as “a lot of the studies only included people from Europe and America.”
Consequences of Racial Bias in Medicine
In the article, Mukwende tells the heartbreaking story of a young girl named Victoria Climbié. She presented with visible injuries on her skin that doctors contributed to scabies. The girl’s guardians claimed her wounds were caused by her continuous scratching at the scars. By the time the doctors realized this was not the case, Climbié had died due to abuse by her great aunt and the aunt’s boyfriend.
Healthcare Literacy, Conservation Awareness, & More
Angelina Jolie’s humanitarian efforts are impressive, and her spotlight on the environment and healthcare literacy is something The Blast can enthusiastically support. You can find more information on the “Those Who Wish Me Dead” actress’ spirited altruism in this article on her experience posing in support of World Bee Day!