THE premature death of Arfa Karim, a genius from Pakistan, hit the local and international, general and medical media causing many concerns. Perhaps the most significant among this has been a grave negative impact on the public perception about epilepsy. This also might have been taken as a sorry state of medical care in Pakistan.
Unfortunately the continuous coverage of her medical care by all electronic media channels from the beginning to the sad end was on the same golden principle of ‘more it is sensational, the more it sells’.
No one tried to verify their statements; worst of all, to my knowledge, there was no official news bulletin by the hospital where this unfortunate ‘IT celebrity’ was being treated. The media kept on making conjectural diagnoses varying from ‘epilepsy’ to ‘idiopathic epilepsy’, ‘heart attack’, ‘brain attack’, ‘brain death,’ etc.
Few people in Pakistan knew that we had a genius amongst us. When alive, she did not get as much a media coverage as this little internationally celebrated IT wizard deserved. Unfortunately the media, the world over, thrives on sensationalism and they did just that with Arfa’s fatal illness.
Did Arfa suffered from epilepsy? The answer most probably is a ‘no’. Having verified from one of the senior neurophysicians who formally examined her during her fatal illness and also through information obtained from family members in her village, it appears that Arfa never had attacks of epilepsy, neither did any one else in her family.
But by their intensive projection, without authentication, the media has caused an irreparable damage to the cause of epilepsy. Even if Arfa had epilepsy, the chances of a fatal end, as a result of a series of attacks, is exceedingly rare, perhaps one in a million.
If Arfa indeed had epilepsy and knew about it, she might have prided on herself by discovering that she stood in line with numerous celebrities in history, like Alfred Nobel, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Lord Byron, Michelangelo, Leonardo de Vinci, Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Jonty Rhodes, Tony Greig, Abdul Sattar Edhi and many others.
PROF HASAN AZIZ International League Against Epilepsy’s Ambassador for Epilepsy Karachi