Race and medicine

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Graves says, “Race is a meaningless concept in medicine. We need to move away from providing treatments, focusing research, or developing drugs based on supposed racial distinctions. The scientific reasoning just isn’t there.”

sickle cells up close
Red blood cells from a person with sickle cell anemia. When a person inherits the sickle cell trait from both parents, his or her red blood cells change shape. Instead of being flexible and round, the cells are rigid and curved in the shape of a sickle or crescent moon. These abnormal cells can clog blood vessels and deprive tissues and organs of oxygen.
CREDIT: Photo courtesy National Institutes of Health

“Take sickle cell anemia, for example. Contrary to popular belief, sickle cell anemia is not a black disease, nor did it originate in West Africa. The gene responsible for sickle cell provides protection against malaria, so it’s present wherever we find malaria—Greece, Yemen, India, East and West Africa, and the Middle East, where it originated. We only think of it as a black disease because the slaves who worked the cotton fields of America came from West Africa. If they’d come from Yemen or Greece, then we’d have seen it as a Yemeni or Greek disease.”

“What’s important to know is a person’s family medical history. Doctors are treating individuals, not races.”