CANADIAN DERMATOLOGISTS CONDEMN RACISM
Skin specialists featured in new ad describe the science behind pigmentation, explain skin colours represent ‘least of our differences’
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (08/04/2020)
TORONTO -- A group of 32 medical specialists from across Canada and the U.S. has taken a stand against racism by signing an open letter to their patients, the Canadian public. The communiqué from dermatologists will appear as a full-page advertisement due to be published later this week in a national newspaper.
In a striking message titled “A Letter to the Canadian Public from Dermatologists on the Reality of Race, Ethnicity and Racial Attitudes,” the doctors explain the scientific basis for the differences in skin tones and hues among different ethnic groups.
They write: “While each skin type has its own structures and characteristics, it is a long-established principle of science that no skin type or hue is superior to another.” The doctors add, “We also know that melanin variations in the skin may represent the very least of peoples’ differences.”
The statement, appearing in the Aug. 8 issue of the National Post, was contributed by the organizers of an annual medical conference on the treatment of skin diseases in Canadian patients of colour. The sixth annual “Skin Spectrum Summit” will begin on October 1, 2020, and will take place as a series of online “virtual” meetings. The Summit is normally held as regional conferences in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
The conference is organized by Chronicle Companies, a Toronto-based medical communications company. More than 300 healthcare professionals are expected to attend this year’s event.
According to Dr. Gary Sibbald, Mississauga dermatologist and curriculum chair of the conference, during the Summit physicians will discuss presentations on disorders that are particular to each of the six skin tone categories of the Fitzpatrick Scale, which classifies patients into “types,” ranging from the lightest (Type 1) to the most richly pigmented skin (Type 6.)
While the Summit focuses on skin science, clinical education, and therapeutics, doctors also weigh cultural factors when considering diagnosis and treatment for patients of different skin types and
ethnicities. This “culturally competent care” is sometimes called ethnic-sensitive practice, or Ethnodermatology, according to Dr. Andrew F. Alexis, a New York-based Canadian dermatologist who is a founding faculty member of Skin Spectrum Summit.
Awareness of the disparities in healthcare provided to different populations has been heightened through recent events. Dr. Sibbald points to U.S. data revealing African Americans die at a much higher rate from Covid-19-related illnesses than Caucasians. Public outrage in the aftermath of the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police has also brought the issue to the fore. “In Canada, there are also racial disparities that require public attention and political solutions,” he said.
A report recently issued by Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto medical officer of health, found that Black people represent 21 per cent of all Covid cases in the city while constituting only 9 per cent of the population. She noted that Arab, Middle Eastern and West Asian people account for 11 per cent of cases and make up 4 per cent of the city’s population.
The dermatologists’ statement was joined by the Black Physicians Association of Ontario, and 18 supporting national pharmaceutical and health products manufacturers.
In condemning racism, the letter acknowledges, “Too recently, and too often, too many people—in particular, Black and Brown and First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people—have been subject to discrimination, challenges, disparities, and far worse, on the basis of their skin type. We believe that patients of all races deserve respect, opportunity, justice and the best medical care available.
“We meet this moment by stating that we are proud to stand with our neighbours, family and colleagues of colour. We recognize, and we deplore, the inequalities still faced by many in society.”
The letter concludes: “We say that Black Lives Matter.”
According to dermatologist Dr. Renée A. Beach of Toronto, a faculty member of the Skin Spectrum Summit, the statement represents the start of several initiatives aimed at highlighting the continued need to recognize skin challenges across the spectrum of skin tones and address health-based racial disparities.
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Accompanying images are available by request.
Media interviews with dermatologist signatories to the statement are available.
Please arrange scheduling through Mitch Shannon, firstname.lastname@example.org, 01-647-284-6360
Skin Spectrum Summit website: http://www.skinspectrum.ca