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Black Women in Medicine & Pharma

Author: Ifeoluwa Oyelade


One of my all-time favourite television shows is The Big Bang Theory. I love the jokes and sarcasm, but the main reason the show is important to me is that, as a scientist myself, I appreciated their emphasis on the brilliance of their female cast members as established scientists. It was refreshing to see a network television program highlight the contributions of women in the science and pharmaceutical industries without their stories getting overshadowed and dependent on their male counterparts.


March is known as Women’s history month; celebrated to focus attention on the contributions of women in society. It is no news that people of African descent, especially women, have experienced marginalization, discrimination and their contributions in various fields have often been ignored or stolen.


We can argue that the world is getting more enlightened and that women, in general, are getting the recognition they deserve, but we cannot say the same about black women. Black women have their work cut out for them because their male counterparts have to deal with racism; white women have to deal with sexism while black women have to deal with both racism and sexism, making it harder for black women to make waves in science or any field. Hence, the importance of recognizing the contributions of these amazing women, not only in March but all year round.


As an organization serving black individuals in the pharmaceutical industry, we highlight some of the inputs of black women in the medical and pharmaceutical industry. These are 5 of the millions of inspiring black women that have made brilliant contributions, discoveries, changed the face of medicine and touched the lives of people worldwide:


Ameyo Stella Adadevoh (27th October 1956 – 19th August 2014)


Image source: https://www.drasatrust.org

Dr Ameyo Adadevoh, also known as the Ebola heroine of Nigeria, was a physician from Lagos, Nigeria. She swiftly and accurately diagnosed Nigeria’s first Ebola virus case, Patrick Sawyer, when the virus was not well known and understood. She decided to isolate the patient despite various pushbacks to prevent the spread of the virus. Her decision to quarantine the patient prevented the catastrophe that would have resulted from the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, Dr Adadevoh and some of her team members contracted the virus while treating the patient and succumbed to the disease. She will be remembered as being responsible for curbing the Ebola virus in Nigeria and why Nigeria escaped the Ebola virus outbreak. (Image source: https://www.drasatrust.org)


Marilyn Hughes Gaston (31st January 1939)


Image source: https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov

Dr Marilyn Hughes Gaston is a paediatrician widely known for her contributions to sickle cell disease. She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and graduated from medical school in 1964. She developed an interest in sickle cell disease (SCD) during her internship at Philadelphia General Hospital and has since made groundbreaking contributions to sickle cell disease. In 1986, she published a study on the effectiveness of oral administration of penicillin to children with SCD by four months of age. Her study proved that oral use of penicillin at an early age could prevent septic infection by pneumococcal bacteria among children with SCD. Her work on SCD resulted in legislation for screening newborn babies for sickle cell disease in many states in the United States, thereby allowing early treatment to avoid complications from the disease. Her contributions to SCD have resulted in a reduction in the mortality rate of children with the disease and remain in use worldwide to prevent infections among children with SCD.


Patricia Era Bath (4th November 1942 – 30th May 2019)


Image source: https://www.blackpast.org

Patricia Era Bath was an American ophthalmologist born in New York City. She gained recognition for her commitment to prevent and provide a solution to vision loss and blindness. She was a brilliant researcher and laser scientist who invented the laser cataract surgery device, Laserphaco Probe. Her laser surgery invention is a worldwide breakthrough and is still in use and has been successful in treating cataracts and restoring vision loss. In addition to her invention, Dr Patricia was a woman of many firsts throughout her career; she was the first woman to lead an ophthalmology residency program in the United States and the first woman to be elected as the honorary staff of UCLA medical centre. She was also the first African American person to serve as a resident in ophthalmology at New York University and the first African American woman to receive a patent for medical purposes.


Evelyn Nicol (2nd June 1930 – 27th May 2020)


Image source: twitter.com

Evelyn Nicol was an Immunologist and a Microbiologist born in Kentucky, USA. She was the first scientist to isolate the Herpes Zoster virus that causes shingles while working as a research assistant with Nobel Prize winners at Cleveland City Hospital. In addition to this, while working at Abbot Laboratories, she developed a novel technique for the mass production of urokinase, an enzyme used to dissolve blood clots. Her patented discovery resulted in an increased and cost-effective production of urokinase. She developed a Toxoplasma Gondii screening test that could determine if a pregnant woman has been exposed to the parasite. This screening test is beneficial because infection of pregnant women with the parasite could result in mother-to-child transmission that could be catastrophic for the fetus and lead to fetal death.


Jane Cooke Wright (20th November 1919 – 19th February 2013)


Image source: mbb.yale.edu

Jane C. Wright was a medical doctor and a brilliant cancer researcher that came from a long line of physicians. As a cancer researcher at the time, chemotherapy was not well known or readily available for cancer treatment, however she dedicated her life to making chemotherapy more assessable. She was popularly known for her contributions in using human tissue culture to test the efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents and also pioneered the use of methotrexate in cancer treatment which remains widely used today to treat breast and skin cancers. Furthermore, she developed a catheter delivery system to transport large doses of cancer drugs to tumours located deep within the body such as the cervix, colon, liver and spleen. Dr Wright also championed the use of combination therapy in precise and controlled order and doses in cancer treatment. Her contributions to cancer research laid the foundation for the use of chemotherapy and have saved millions of lives worldwide as chemotherapy remains one of the first lines of cancer treatment even with the advancement of precision/personalized medicine.


Black women have continued to be disruptive and innovative in science. It is vital that we intensify efforts to break conscious and unconscious biases and promote the inclusion of black women in science as well as other fields.


 

About the Author

Ifeoluwa Oyelade is a Clinical Research Associate at Reliance Clinical Limited by day and a 'healthy living advocate' at all times. She is the creator of Health and Wellness joint on Instagram, where she enlightens her followers on healthy living practices to live a wholesome life. She enjoys Yoga and watching movies.


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