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Mind the Gap: One Year On

Published: 12 August 2021

Malone Mukwende

In August 2020, St George’s, University of London medical student Malone Mukwende published Mind the Gap, a handbook of clinical signs and symptoms in black and brown skin – addressing decades of racial bias in medical education.

This milestone was achieved after months of hard work, as part of a student-staff partnership project at the university. Since publication, both Malone and the handbook have gone from strength to strength, with the handbook being downloaded almost 250,000 times in more than 100 different countries. Malone has also appeared in countless news stories and interviews, including being tweeted by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o and most recently, interviewed by Angelina Jolie for Time Magazine

We caught up with Malone to hear about his experiences one year on from publishing Mind the Gap and his plans for the future.

How have you navigated the last 12 months since Mind the Gap published?

It’s been a really positive year on the whole. Loads of people have been engaging with the work and using it, which has been great to see.

It’s been quite challenging, juggling medical school alongside Mind the Gap and my other projects, but I do my best to separate them out. The strategy I’ve used has been treating university work like a nine-to-five job, studying in the day and fitting everything else outside that. Even if classes are only until 10am, mentally I know that until 5pm is the time to stay focused on university work. Outside of that is when I focus on Mind the Gap

How is Mind the Gap being used?

I know the handbook is being used in reading lists at various universities and other educational institutions. I’ve also heard that some hospital wards have the handbook on the nurses’ desk. It’s not just in the UK either – I had an email from one of Germany’s biggest teaching hospitals, saying it’s being used there too.

It definitely makes me feel proud to know that something I started in university accommodation is now being used in establishments all over the world.

I’m realising now that Mind the Gap has opened doors to other discussions which needed to be had, so it’s just the start of what’s to come.

What was it like being interviewed by Angelina Jolie?

It made me realise that anything is possible. It was such a surreal feeling but at the same time it was weirdly normal, as it was over Zoom, the same way I’ve been doing my university lectures.

It opened my eyes to a lot of the work that she does, for domestic violence victims, women, refugees. The list of work she does is so extensive, it’s amazing. 

I always thought the Lupita and Angelina things, were so far away, in distant galaxies, but those things we feel are impossible are actually a lot closer than we think. After those two experiences, I just think, if I want to speak to Barack Obama next, I’m probably only two or three conversations away from that – I just don’t know which two or three. I don’t even know what we’d talk about, I just find that so surreal.

What did your friends and family say?

It was one of those things I kept quiet because I wasn’t sure people would believe it. If someone tells you they’ve spoken to Angelina, it sounds weird. But when it came out, people said, “Wow, we didn’t realise people like Angelina were interested in the work.”

Another thing it reminded me of, is that at the end of the day, we’re all human. We connected on a personal level, and she was very supportive of the work I’m doing. Sometimes, you need to hear those words of encouragement to take you to the next step. The interview made me realise I’m not yet unlocking my full potential and I still have a lot to give.

What are your next steps?

As well as Mind the Gap, it’s been roughly a year since I created the Black & Brown Skin website – a place to showcase clinical signs of diseases on black and brown skin online. The website has allowed me to see what we’re doing well and what we’re doing not so well. We’re getting lots of visitors, who are coming to the website for a reason, but we need to keep them there for longer, so we can build a community. 

We’re currently creating a new platform called Hutano, which translates to ‘health’ in my native language, Shona. Hutano will be a health social care platform, where people can come, stay on for longer and, as it’s a social network, interact with other members of the community.

What makes Hutano different?

Hutano will be a social community catered to black and brown communities and a safe space dedicated to these groups, talking about healthcare. We want to present the information in a way so people can digest it easily and meet them where they are.

In practical terms, someone will make a profile, sign up and join groups based on their health interests. For example, if you have sickle cell disease, you can join a sickle cell group, which will have moderators to vet the posts. You can then post discussion topics within these groups.

There are so many things you can’t search for that people struggle with the most, like if someone says “I have sickle cell but want to go on Tinder, what’s your experience?” You have to speak to someone to find that answer. You can’t just Google that.

That’s where I see the evolution of all the work going. Long term, I think that’s the most sustainable idea. What we’re doing right now is great, but we’re only just scratching the surface.

What are you most looking forward to now?

I’m really looking forward to Hutano launching and being out there, but I keep saying to myself that I get too carried away looking forward to things.

One thing I need to do is enjoy the journey and all those trials and tribulations along the way. In hindsight, the journey is always the most enjoyable part.

If you’d like to find out more about Mind the Gap, you can read our previous article on its publication here.

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