Lehlohonolo Makhakhe: South African Medical Doctor Behind The First Comprehensive African Book About Skin Conditions In Africa

by Duke Magazine

The conventional way of impacting a formal education is through textbooks and materials across the globe. Students have learned with scenarios from countries they have never been to or cannot relate to. A South African dermatologist and author, Lehlohonolo Makhakhe, has written the world’s first “comprehensive African atlas” centered on skin conditions on the continent.

Makhakhe realized that most reading materials were Eurocentric, and he wanted to offer a more decolonized academic material to propagate a more decolonized education which is Afro-inspiring.

“What inspired the book was the lack of decolonized education, we are aware that our curriculum was very much colonized. Not to say it was caucasionised but it was more Eurocentric,” he said.

The South African dermatologist’s personal experiences also played a big part in the book. While studying to be a dermatologist, he felt as though the certain basics of the training were missing.

He noticed there was no such affordable comprehensive manual based on common skin conditions in Africa that will be of great help to African doctors and nurses to better manage skin-related pathology.

“I always felt like we were missing the basics. It was as a general practitioner that I saw a lot of skin conditions and some of the conditions were unnecessary referrals, that should’ve been included in training. It was about making knowledge really accessible to your general practitioner,” said Makhakhe.

As a senior lecturer and specialist in the Department of Dermatology at the University of the Free State (UFS), Makhakhe’s book, African Atlas, synopsis and practical guide to clinical dermatology, which officially published in July 2020 by African Brilliant Minds Publishers, has been added to the curriculum of UFS after the book was provincially accepted and endorsed by the university.

The book, which had over 50 contributors, has more than 1000 high-resolution images and is intended for medical and nursing students. Medical doctors and specialists from across departments were enlisted on the project which began in 2016 after Makhakhe received formal approval from the UFS Ethics Committee and the provincial Department of Health.

This the first comprehensive full-color atlas, with contributions from endocrinologists, hematologists, rheumatologists, psychiatrists, the Departments of Pharmacology, Dietetics and Paediatrics.

“It was a phased project that included taking photos of different skin conditions. The first phase was to take pictures of a list of conditions that we typically see in our South African trends. The book is 36 chapters long, but it is not purely dermatology. We have other departments. In a nutshell, it was a wholesome of unity to show that all these departments are intertwined,” he said.

This is Makhakhe’s biggest project to date, and he believes it is an honor to be a part of the publication. He has authored three shorter books and this book is meant to “promote the culture of writing and producing quality, well-researched, locally brewed content that is relevant to our setting.”

“I am excited about this production; it is one of the highlights of my life, to come in and be the first one to write such a book. Remember the Dermatology Department in Free State was the first such department in the whole of South Africa and was founded in 1968.

“For me to author a book that is the first in the country and continent of Africa is really significant. It’s an honor for me to be a part of this publication,” said Makhakhe.

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