UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


An IHE Book Review: 'Divided'

9 August 2023

We're starting a new book review series to help introduce you to new concepts in healthcare engineering. Here's our review on 'Divided: Racism, Medicine and Why We Need to Decolonise Healthcare’ by Annabel Sowemimo.

image of the book on a brown background

Healthcare engineering is complex and multi-faceted (as most things are). We want to do our bit to break down those barriers to knowledge – to help you understand a bit more about what we do and what healthcare engineering is. That’s why we’ve got our podcast, we have our events and now we have our book reviews. Every month, we’ll be writing a review on a book related to healthcare engineering. We hope this will inspire you to take the book out from your local library or bookstore, give it a read, and understand a bit more about healthcare engineering.

Our first book of this series is called Annabel Sowemimo’s ‘Divided: Racism, Medicine and Why We Need to Decolonise Healthcare’. ‘Divided’ is a call to action for the problem we have in healthcare – racism and unchecked biases. Annabel adds her voice to the silence – there aren’t enough people speaking about this, and that is somewhat understandable, especially if you don’t come from a Black or Asian background. However, awareness is key to making change and Annabel’s book is a good starting point in becoming aware.

Let’s start with what makes Annabel such a great person to be writing a book like this? Annabel is an NHS doctor, a registrar in sexual and reproductive health, and an academic. And she studied at UCL! Annabel is also used to writing – she used to write for the influential ‘gal-dem’ but has now written ‘Divided’ to help us understand some of the racist origins of Western medicine and how we can go forward and dispel discriminatory practices.

I know it’s said a lot but this is one of those books every healthcare professional should read. It checks us and helps us question our own prejudices and biases whilst providing some solutions to the problems at hand. I say ‘some solutions’ because Annabel’s book is honest in her frustration of finding those solutions – this isn’t something that’s going to change for the better overnight.

For a topic so heavy, ‘Divided’ is a very accessible book. As someone who doesn’t read much (I normally get through about a book a year), I got through this in less than a week. It was interesting and easy to read. It’s well written and the book gives an insight into a world we might not have thought about. There’s peppering of anecdotes from the wards and anecdotes from her own life as a Black Nigerian woman which all add an extra layer to her book.

One interesting thing I learnt from the book was that early vaccine inoculation was being practised across the globe as early as the tenth century – I thought this was a somewhat modern invention, founded by some old white man in the West in the 19th century. But this goes to show that history really is written by those in power. Annabel recounts the story of Onesimus, a slave in the 18th century, who had signs of inoculation from smallpox, thus proving that vaccinations weren’t ‘discovered’ by the white man but rather something in existence for a long time before it was ‘discovered’.

Annabel also raises some other important points in the book. Some other issues she mentions:

  • Racially marginalised people are more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act and have some of the most restrictive measures implemented
  • Black women are four times as likely to die in childbirth in the UK
  • Spirometers automatically have race correction built in – why? Why does race matter when it comes to determining lung health?
  • And how, early on, Covid was seen as a genetic flaw rather than a socio-economic one because of the rate of racially marginalised people dying

Overall, you might be able to tell, I really liked this book. Medicine has often failed people of colour and ‘Divided’ has highlighted that, whilst also providing some solutions. It seems like such a big problem to solve but a book like this is a good ripple in the pond. Every little help, right? I hope this inspires a collection of people, just as much it inspired me.

Written by Ferdouse Akhter, Marketing and Community Manager