Black woman denied help as white doctors ‘didn’t recognise’ symptoms

Kanayo collapsed in A&E after being dismissed with ibuprofen. (Pictures: Kanayo Dike-Oduah)

A young Black woman has revealed she was turned away from two A&E departments with an ‘horrific’ skin condition before collapsing at a third hospital, because white doctors were unable to diagnose her.

Kanayo Dike-Oduah, 27, from London said it wasn’t until she collapsed and was seen by a consultant who looked like her – a doctor with darker skin – that she was admitted to hospital.

In a report for BBC News, pictures of Kanayo’s skin at the time show extreme swelling and pus.

Despite this, two separate A&E departments turned her away and she says she believes this was down to inadequate medical training for doctors diagnosing conditions on dark skin.

‘My symptoms did not look severe enough to them,’ says Kanayo.

‘They didn’t even take my medical history. It was only at the point where I sent a picture of my face to my younger sister. She took it to the local pharmacy and they said, “you need to get that person to a hospital.”

Kanayo Dike-Oduah

Kanayo says doctors didn’t take her medical history. (Picture: Kanayo Dike-Oduah)

‘As soon as I stepped through those A&E doors my body just gave up. They had to resuscitate me. It was only when I went to this third hospital where there was a consultant that looked like me and that could identify that this woman was in severe pain and this is not how she looks normally.’

Kanayo had Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare, serious disorder of the skin and mucous membranes. It’s usually a reaction to medication that starts with flu-like symptoms, followed by a painful rash that spreads and blisters. 

When she was dismissed, doctors said they could not recognise Kanayo’s symptoms and that they did not look serious enough. They didn’t give her anything but ibuprofen.

‘I look back and I feel failed,’ Kanayo says. ‘It’s not just me – there is a history of women who have been turned away because it doesn’t look like what they [some doctors] have seen before.

‘If their curriculum doesn’t account for what certain diseases look like on dark skin, then the fault lies in the fact that they haven’t been shown.’

Kanayo Dike-Oduah

She’s now on the mend, but wants to raise awareness about discrimination in healthcare. (Picture: Kanayo Dike-Oduah)

Kanayo says doctors didn’t take her medical history, but her initial illness was triggered by a reaction to a medication that Black women and Asian women are known for reacting badly to – Carbamazepine.

She says she was not warned about this potential side effect of Carbamazepine and it was originally administered for tooth ache.

In medical training, almost all examples of dermatological issues are only shown on white skin. The British Association of Dermatologists says this is because ‘the UK has historically been very European centric’.

A spokesperson for The British Association of Dermatologists commented: ‘Educational leaders need to ensure that diversity of patient population is embedded into all education material.

‘We have created an undergraduate handbook, featuring new images containing a wide range of skin types.

‘Making a positive change is never too early and never too late. We are doing it now is the main thing. Dermatology in the UK has historically been very European centric because it was established as a medical specialty in the 18th century and we need to modernise.’

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