Lauraine M H Vivian and Olle Johansson
In January 2013, thirty year old James Lech a MIT post-graduate student became the first person to be diagnosed as suffering with electrohypersensitivity (EHS) and registered for medical disability in South Africa. He is categorized as permanently disabled and receives R800 (US $74) per month. Unlike in Sweden where he would claim various accessibility measures, Lech will remain confined to his in-law’s middle class suburban home in Cape Town, from where he is able to walk in a limited route when healthy enough. Outside of this he is affected by competing electromagnetic fields and suffers the possibility of his bodily systems ‘shutting down’. Lech’s diagnosis was made by two government doctors who reviewed his medical records, extensively examined him, and diagnosed him with an array of ICD clinical diagnoses to best medically describe EHS. This came after numerous doctors stated that they recognized that he was suffering severe dysfunction but did not believe in EHS. Lech’s case raises two fundamental questions.
The first is a misplaced scientific focus on the development of wireless technology over and above proper scientific evaluation of its effect on human populations. In this respect it is pertinent that people’s observations that they are affected by EHS be validated rather than understood as a question of belief and that medical scientists behave ethically and remain open to investigating the possible cause of the ailment.1 The second question is related to the unseen consequences of the current denial of the impact of EHS on people given that 3-10% of people in the developed world are believed to suffer.2 Technologies based on various artificial electromagnetic fields, such as microwaves, are increasing incrementally and public health infrastructure that could ameliorate harm remain inadequate in developed world settings and certainly failed Lech in this South African developing world context.
1. Panagopoulos DJ, Johansson O, Carlo GL. Evaluation of Specific Absorption Rate as a Dosimetric Quantity for
Electromagnetic Fields Bioeffects. PLoS ONE 2013;8:e62663.
2. Bogers RP, et al. Design of an ecological momentary assessment study of exposure to radiofrequency
electromagnetic fields and non-specific physical symptoms. BMJ Open 2013;3:e002933. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002933.
Written consent has been obtained from Mr James Lech to publish this letter.