Why India needs something like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to drive health awareness ?

(Source : You Tube)

I call it the “Gangnam Style” of healthcare.

Whether on Facebook or on You Tube the one phenomenon you cant get away from is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

ALS or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—also referred to as motor neurone disease (MND), Charcot disease, and, in the United States, Lou Gehrig‘s disease—is a neurodegenerative disease with various causes. It is characterised by muscle spasticity, rapidly progressive weakness due to muscle atrophy, difficulty in speaking (dysarthria), swallowing (dysphagia), and breathing (dyspnea). ALS is the most common of the five motor neuron diseases. (Source Wikipedia)

It affects almost 450,000 people globally and it is estimated that every 90 seconds someone is diagnosed with ALS globally. The causes for  ALS are genetics, Glutamate and lesions on the frontot parietal lobes. But these are all supposed causes and physicians worldwide find it very difficult to pin down on an actual cause.

It is believed by the scientific community that Military personnel have a greater chance of developing ALS as compared to the civilian population. The risk is highest in the Air Force personnel followed by the Army.

The disease is fatal with most people succumbing to the disease in less than 30 months. The common cause of death being respiratory failure..

So why did the the ALS Ice bucket challenge start?

Firstly the ALS Ice Bucket challenge was the brain child of the late Corey Griffin, who incidentally died this week due to drowning off the coast of Massachusetts. Corey came up with the novel idea when his good friend Pete Frates was disgnosed with ALS. Since the movement went viral many celebreties from Justin Timberlake to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have taken the challenge. Some current and former Manchester United Stars like Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher and Robin Van Persie have taken the challenge too.

Closer home sports women Sania Mirza and Ashwini Ponappa have taken the challenge..


How does the challenge work ?

Well the person or celebrity in question takes an ice bucket and dunks it over his or her head. The freezing cold water gives the feeling of a person with ALS whose motor functions have frozen and would not move for a few seconds. Before taking on the challenge the person has to nominate others to the challenge, which is mostly televised. If the person does not want to go through the challenge then he has to donate $ 100 to a foundation that is funding the cure for ALS…

Some people have simply donated the money without even going through the challenge while others have gone through with it and still donated the money.

So is the Ice Bucket Challenge working ?

Well so far the challenge has produced almost $ 23 Million to be given to the foundation. Now with the untimely death of Corey the collections would undoubtedly increase.

So what were the factors that led to the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge ?

1) The idea was simple but at the same time did involve a sense of an adventure. Imagine taking something very simple as ice water and then dunking it on top of your head in full view of the camera while challenging and naming others to dot he same…very simple but very dangerous at the same time..

2) Gamification- It almost has all the mechanics of gamification. You go through the challenge and then challenge someone else to do so. It has a few elements of truth or dare. Truth is handing over the $ 100 and the dare to go through with the ice water all over you. It is the child in us that comes alive while listening to this proposition.

3) Just like any other trend it needed a few important influencers to tip things over. In this case there were quiet a few. Justin Bieber, Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Mark Zuckerberg and Britney Spears all are very powerful celebrities with a huge following on Social. Once they got on to the bandwagon the rest is history…



Many have criticized this entire awareness drive. Some critics feel that it trivializes ALS which is actually a very serious condition. Also the manner in which this viral message has spread takes the focus away the real danger of the disease condition.

Also the ALS foundation already receives funds normally creating a viral drive for fundraising may not help a disease with an unknown etiology and a continuous flow of money to find a cure..

Of all the criticism the one that stuck in my head is from film star Sonakshi Sinha who asked Indians to save water and decline the challenge, in common reference to the scarcity of water in the country..

But despite the criticism it has been a very interesting drive and its great to see something like ALS hit main stream media.

What i would like is for folks in India to start a similar campaigns for disease like TB, Dengue and Malaria, not only to raise awareness but also to generate some funds which are hard to come by in cases where the disease is not considered very cool to associate with.

As always comments and suggestions are welcome…


Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran

Management Thinker, Marketer, Healthcare Professional Communicator and Ideation exponent

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