A recent Telegraph article details the case of Alina Sarag, a 15-year-old British girl who died after being repeatedly misdiagnosed by the physician Dr. Sharad Shripadrao Pandit. Alina’s parents, distraught over their daughter’s ill health, called Pandit more than 50 times over a four-month period, but were repeatedly told that Alina had nothing physically wrong with her . . . she was just in love with a boy she’d met on a family vacation.
Pandit, evidently her primary care physician, was not the only medical professional to misdiagnose the teenager, who died of tuberculosis (TB). She was seen by family physicians, a pediatrician, hospital emergency room workers, and an adolescent mental health service, all of which apparently paid more attention to Pandit’s diagnosis than Alina’s symptoms.
The horrifying malpractice came about despite Alina’s medical records showing that she had contracted TB from a classmate in 2009. According to the Telegraph, “She was prescribed a course of antibiotics at Birmingham Chest Clinic but medical staff never followed up her treatment. Alina was struck down again in July 2010 after returning from a trip to Pakistan with her family . . . doctors shrugged off her family’s concerns and told them Alina was suffering from a chest infection despite being classed as a ‘high risk’ patient . . . Dr. Pandit told Alina’s family she was ‘lovesick’ after returning from Pakistan on holiday, and suggested [that she see] a spiritual healer.”
Alina’s weight “plummeted”, she suffered breathing problems, and was finally rushed to hospital, where she died of cardiac arrest. At the age of 15.
Does anyone doubt that, had Alina been named Muhammad, “he” would have been examined much more thoroughly, his symptoms taken seriously, his life saved? If the Sarags’ daughter had instead been a son, that he would still be alive and looking forward to continuing high school, perhaps going on to university?
When was the last time you heard of a young man with breathing problems diagnosed as lovesick?
How could so many medical professionals have gone along with Pandit’s truly shocking misdiagnosis?
We know that female children are regarded as less valuable in Asia (witness the inexorable rise in abortions of female fetuses in India and China), but this girl was British – from a South Asian family, yes, but raised in England, a student at Golden Hillock School in Birmingham. She was seen at English hospitals and English medical practices. There was no question of testing materials being unavailable.
No one wanted to test Alina for TB. They preferred to believe that her symptoms were the aftermath of an emotional crush.
Girls and women have been misdiagnosed and wrongly medicated for centuries, often because of a mistaken belief that they are just like men, only smaller and with different reproductive bits. Women have been called “hysterical” for wanting education or sexual pleasure. Their breast and reproductive system cancers have been ignored or hushed up because they were too embarrassing . . . leading, naturally, to their deaths. They’ve been blamed for not being enough like men, then blamed for being too masculine.
Now more than ever, women and girls are entitled to have their symptoms investigated with the same medical scrutiny used for their brothers’ bodily problems.
Alina was not lovesick. She died because a strain of mycobacteria infected her lungs, because physicians discounted her symptoms. She died because her illness was not investigated. She died after months of pain and fear.
She died of other people’s arrogant assumptions.