ALS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that is characterized by the progressive weakening of motor neurons due to dysfunction and death of motor neurons in the brain and spinal chord. When these neurons degenerate and die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. As motor neurons degenerate, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle fibers, resulting in the loss of muscle movement. Patients in the later stages of this disease may become completely paralyzed as voluntary muscle action weakens and muscles begin to waste away from lack of use.
ALS is classified into two forms: sporadic (without an obvious genetic component) which covers about 90% of cases and familial (inheritance by descent) which makes up roughly 10% of cases. More than 12,000 individuals in the United States alone have been diagnosed with ALS, and the condition is prevalent among all races and genders. Absolute diagnoses is difficult; however, using an EMG (Electro-Myography), which is a probing of a muscle’s electrical impulse, individuals can be tested for signs of ALS. After diagnosis, only 20% of individuals survive for five more years.
While ALS has been significantly recognized in the medical community for decades, the reasons of its onset are unclear. Research is still premature in discovering the causes, but researcher Su-Chun Zhang may have recently discovered a possible cause, linking it back to a specific protein.
But the news about ALS currently is not contained to the new research and treatment involved, Su-Chun Zhang’s latest proposal regarding the onset, or its prevalence throughout the world. Rather, ALS has currently taken the media by storm with the new #icebucketchallenge, a proposal created by a few individuals in Boston who challenged each other to donate either $100.00 to the ALS Foundation of their choice or to dump a bucket of water on their head. After the initial challenge started, it didn’t take long for it to go nearly viral. Friends challenged their other friends, some donating, some dumping, and some potentially doing both. An individual simply makes a video of themselves nominating typically 3-5 friends to take the challenge, followed by a huge bucket of ice and water being thrown over his or her head.
And the Ice Bucket Challenge has had some famous participants. Governor Chris Christie challenged Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, who in turn accepted the challenge and nominated Bill Gates, Sheryl Shelberg, and Reed Hastings. Fire Departments, police officers, and local politicians are among the notable public servants to take part in the challenge across America. And as reported by the ALS Foundation, the massive hype has in turn brought in many donations – up to 2.3 million dollars – to the ALS Foundation.
That being said, the social media initiative isn’t without its critics. Time Magazine’s Jacob Davidson pointed out that the Ice Bucket Challenge, while raising millions of dollars, has a horrendous and uneconomical structure: in order to join the social media hype, one has to not donate to ALS and rather be soaked and wet. His argument has considerable merit: had the challenge been structured differently, the social media phenomenon could have potentially raised more money. Most ALS Ice Bucket Videos further don’t talk about the specifics of the condition or actual awareness. There are just new nominations followed by a lot of cold water. And while that doesn’t mean a world without the Ice Bucket Challenge would be any better, as Chad Finn of Boston.com ardently pointed out by citing the amazing financial figures regarding donations, it indicates that these trends could perhaps be improved.
So why not? Let’s improve the Ice Bucket Challenge. Not replace it, not criticize it, but actively improve it.
One of the main trends in every Ice Bucket Challenge video, save a few funny nuances, is a lot of water. Cold, frigid water. And amid the temperature, it is clear that this water is typically clean and readily available to be used for this challenge. And this is where the Ice Bucket Challenge can promote a new spinoff, one that has direly important goal.
Unlike all the participants of the Ice Bucket Challenge, 800 million people in the world do not even have the resources to participate. They lack clean drinking water, robbing them of the ability to live a hygienic life or to be concerned with pressing issues like ALS. The facts are depressingly tragic: 30,000 individuals will die by next Thursday following the constant rates, 90% of whom will be children.
While these numbers may appear scary, and are in no way meant to be compared to a rare illness like ALS; but they, like many other things in the world, are still a major problem. However, with the attention the Ice Bucket Challenge has gathered, there may be a way to alleviate not only the barriers in finding a cure for ALS, but a problem that may claim the lives of individuals every minute.
So, let’s make it a reality.
Here is our new crazy spinoff challenge: named the #cleanwaterchallenge. For every bucket of ice water you dumped over your head for the #icebucketchallenge, we challenge you to donate at least $10.00 to Charity: Water to provide someone without a clean supply of water a water bucket’s amount of it. We chose Charity:Water for a few reasons, namely that while it has heavy overhead, as any international aid organization does, they are the only major triple-bottom-line non-profit that donates 100% of proceeds to this field. With this trending phenomenon, we can create a way of giving back to the world that has unfortunate, unequal levels of sanitary water throughout, and let others know that the way in which we are raising social awareness for ALS is by using something that is absolutely scarce in large parts of the world.
As reported by Charity:Water, investing in clean water not only saves lives immediately, but also generates strong economies in financially poor areas, allowing for stronger infrastructure and long term growth. The very water you use to fill up a bucket and the extreme ease of fetching cleanly stored ice is a rare commodity around the world, namely in rural areas in South America and Africa. The #cleanwaterchallenge isn’t meant to blame or criticize those who took part in the #icebucketchallenge; rather, it is a way to give back to the world that has provided you with the materials to participate in this quest to defeat ALS. Because, maybe, one day, individuals everywhere in the world will be able to take part in these social media trends, because they will have the basic necessities we often take for granted. And we personally will take a special step: in order to promote this challenge, we will donate $1 to Charity:Water ourselves for every person that shares this challenge on Facebook with their friends.
And don’t let the #waterbucketchallenge replace the #icebucketchallenge. And don’t let the #icebucketchallenge be the end of this trend of social media goodness. ALS research has had a strong boost, and the media sensation should not die down too soon. Hopefully, with the financial contributions of the #icebucketchallenge, ALS research will have some more novel successes, like those discovered by Su-Chun Zhang.
Social Media has allowed the #icebucketchallenge to stay afloat. But we shouldn’t just stop there.
Cover Image Credit: Samantha Okazaki / TODAY
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