The field of medical research is huge, and yet there’s very little work that’s been done from an African perspective.
One man is trying to fill that gap and has started his journey by publishing the first-ever comprehensive atlas detailing skin conditions that present on African skin.
Drum talks to senior lecture at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) dermatology department, Dr Lehlohonolo Makhakhe about his ground-breaking research and his attempt to shape a new future for patients of colour.
He’s humble about his efforts but the project was a long labour of love that took four years to compile. The result is a practical manual to help health care workers, mainly doctors and nurses, to deal with skin conditions of black patients.
Dr Makhakhe was a general practitioner before he joined the university, and it was then he discovered the lack of resources for common skin conditions in South Africa.
“A lot of our content at medical level is more European and American based. You won’t believe it when I tell you that now, in dermatology we don’t classify any diseases,” he says. “For all skin diseases, and many others in the atlas, when you look at their classification and ways to manage those conditions, we look at European literature.”
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And this is true for other specialist areas as well, he says, so it’s important for Africans to give their perspective and create more diverse interpretations of conditions in dermatology and other facets of medicine.
The atlas was published in July 2020 and has been well received, he tells us.
“A lot of people feel like this is exactly what they need to better diagnose skin conditions and to put everything into perspective.”
His work is also targeted at medical students and to date the book has been integrated into the curriculum of UFS medical students.
“From third to final year, our students will be using the book. They are loving it because it has opened up so much for them in terms of comprehensiveness, and it is user-friendly. I’ve also heard from the publisher that Wits library has got a few copies, as well as other varsities’ medical libraries,” he says.
Dr Makhakhe hopes his work will foster a culture of integration across the various medical disciplines and help patients by reducing the number of poor referrals stemming from a lack of knowledge.
He has already started on another first of its kind project that combines pathology and dermatology. This will be a bigger project, he says, done in collaboration with other medical professionals from around the country.