Source: The Guardian from 2014
By Sarah Boseley, who is the health editor of the Guardian. She has won a number of awards for her work on HIV/Aids in Africa, including the One World Media award (twice) and the European section of the Lorenzo Natali prize, awarded by the European commission.
Scientists condemn homeopaths as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘cruel’ for offering victims false hope and for ‘putting lives at risk’
Homeopaths have offered their services to prevent and treat Ebola in west Africa, claiming their “remedies” can work in serious epidemics of infectious disease.
“Homeopaths worldwide have been mobilising their efforts toward gaining entrance in those countries affected,” the National Center for Homeopathy in the US said on its website. “The overriding goal is to investigate Ebola firsthand, and thereby determine which remedy or remedies are best for treating this disease.”
The organisation claims that homeopathic remedies have been used successfully in other disease epidemics in the past, naming cholera, diphtheria and hepatitis among others.
Scientists say there is no evidence that homeopathic remedies have any effect on the body, with the substances so heavily diluted that they are effectively water. But homeopathic clinics have been set up all over Africa, sometimes offering “cures” for such lethal diseases as Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.
“There is not a jot of evidence that homeopathic treatments are effective for any infection such as Ebola,” said Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor at the University of Exeter. “To happily offer affected patients false hope is cruel; to pretend that homeopathy cures Ebola is irresponsible; to travel to West Africa on a ‘homeopathic mission’ is to disclose the insane delusions that affect many homeopaths.”
In 2009, a group of young African and British doctors petitioned the World Health Organisation to speak out against homeopathy, which they believed was endangering lives. Under the auspices of the Voice of Young Science, part of the London-based Sense About Science organisation, they asked WHO to condemn the promotion of homeopathy for treating TB, infant diarrhoea, influenza, malaria and HIV.
“Homeopathy does not protect people from, or treat, these diseases,” they wrote. “Those of us working with the most rural and impoverished people of the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is needed. When homeopathy stands in place of effective treatment, lives are lost.”
In response, WHO experts, backed by the director general, stated that they did not recommend homeopathy for any of those conditions.
There are currently no proven treatments for Ebola, which is killing 70% of those who are infected.
“Medics working with the most rural and impoverished people of the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is needed,” said Victoria Murphy, programme manager of Sense About Science. “The promotion of homeopathy as effective or cheaper makes this difficult task even harder. It puts lives at risk, undermines conventional medicine and spreads misinformation. When homeopathy stands in place of effective treatment, lives are lost.”
One of the homeopathy clinics brought to the WHO’s attention in 2009 was the Amma Resonance Healing Foundation in Ethiopia, which offered homeopathy as “an ideal alternative and complement for the treatment of HIV/AIDS in developing countries”. The foundation, established in the Netherlands, is run by the British homeopath Peter Chappell. He and his colleague Harry van der Zee claim their homeopathic remedy can reverse Aids.
On their website, Van der Zee now urges supporters of homeopathy to sign the Change.org petition started in Australia, calling on WHO “to test and distribute homeopathy as quickly as possible to contain the outbreaks”.
Among the signatories is Steffan Browning, a Green Party MP in New Zealand. He was publicly dismissed by the prime minister John Key as “barking mad”.
“Let’s be honest, this is a serious global issue, and if he really thinks that’s the answer I’d love to see the medical research,” said Key.
Browning admitted “it was probably a bit unwise” to sign the petition, which he also shared on his Facebook page encouraging other people to sign it. He said he had signed it “pretty late at night”, although he hoped WHO would keep an open mind on potential treatment options, since there was currently no cure.
New Zealand’s health minister, Jonathan Coleman, however, said treating Ebola patients with homeopathic remedies was “a wacko idea”, adding: “I don’t know what he’s thinking, it’s very, very dangerous. I think he really needs to engage his brain, it’s a really and stupid dangerous idea.”