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health leadShould you dump a bucket of ice cold water on your head or donate $100 to a worthy cause?

These are the two options you may choose from if you are nominated for the ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC) on social media.

Initiated in the US in mid-2013, the Challenge aims to raise awareness and funds for ALS research and treatment worldwide. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, often proving to be fatal, that results in loss of voluntary muscle control, making walking, talking and even breathing difficult. Donations go towards the ALS Association in the US and the Motor Neurone Disease Association in the UK, two organisations that are working to provide disease management treatments and financial aid to ALS sufferers.

The IBC has raised a staggering one hundred million dollars in the last month alone, compared to 2.5 million dollars collected in 2013. The ALS Association has announced that the majority of the donations are directed towards finding a cure. Research in this area is being spearheaded by Pakistan based American neurologist, Teepu Siddique, credited with identifying the genetic abnormalities believed to cause ALS.

As of 2014, an estimated 17,558 people in Pakistan have been diagnosed with ALS. Due to the scarcity and high costs of medication and local treatment, ALS patients in Pakistan have an average life expectancy of less than two years, while globally – where quality healthcare is available – it is estimated at five years.

The IBC wave hit Pakistan with Bakhtawar Bhutto joining in and later challenging her sister Asifa; their IBC YouTube videos have already garnered thousands of views in a matter of days. Neuroscientists are attributing the IBC phenomenon to ‘the audience effect’; our desire to “do good” and be appreciated and admired for our philanthropic initiatives.

The IBC is inspiring people to contribute to a meaningful cause while having fun. After all, who would not want a cool dip, especially as the mercury continues to soar?

I challenge all of you!

– Dr Summaiya Syed-Tariq

The writer is a senior forensic practitioner working at the Police Surgeon’s Office, Karachi.

First published in the ADBUZZZZ of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on September 14, 2014.