Medics and scientists have sent a letter to the WHO asking that it condemn the promotion of homeopathy for treatment of HIV, TB, malaria, influenza and infant diarrhea, especially in the developing world. They asked the WHO to "issue a clear international communication about the inappropriate use of homeopathy" just prior to a conference on 'Homeopathy for Developing Countries' (6/6/09). They're worried that if homeopathy is accepted as a treatment for these diseases, many people will die unecessarily. Leading disease experts are supporting the call for the WHO to take action. The basic argument is that it is unethical to allow unproven therapies to be offered when proven therapies are available.
COMMENTS FROM SENIOR SCIENTISTS AND MEDICS:
Dr Peter Flegg MD, FRCP, DTM&H, Consultant Physician, Department of Infectious Diseases, Victoria Hospital: "As a physician who has had first hand experience of the devastating effects of these life-threatening infections in Africa, I am frankly appalled that anyone would consider treating them with totally irrational, ineffective and unproven therapies. These infections all have effective conventional treatments available, and to use homeopathy for them is highly unethical and morally repugnant."
Professor Raymond Tallis, Emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine, University of Manchester: "The catastrophic consequences of promoting irrational and ineffective treatments for serious illnesses have been demonstrated in South Africa, where Thabo Mbeki's policies have led to an estimated 365,000 unnecessary premature deaths. The prospect of replicating this reckless behaviour elsewhere in developing countries by advocating homoeopathic treatments for AIDs and other potentially lethal conditions is appalling. I hope that the timely intervention by the Voice of Young Science Network will help to pre-empt a public health disaster. It illustrates the importance of young scientists, torchbearers for a better future, taking a stand and speaking out."
Dr Alastair Miller MA FRCP DTM&H, Consultant Physician, Tropical & Infectious Disease Unit, Royal Liverpool University Hospital: "We frequently see patients in our unit from developing countries who have been advised to take inappropriate and unproven therapies for their HIV and not to take the very well established and effective anti viral agents. This leads to tragic and inevitable breakdown of the immune system and very adverse outcomes for our patients."
Dr NJ Beeching, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Lead in Infectious Diseases, Tropical and Infectious Disease Unit, Royal Liverpool University Hospital: "Infections such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis all have a high mortality rate but can usually be controlled or cured by a variety of proven treatments, for which there is ample experience and scientific trial data. There is no objective evidence that homeopathy has any effect on these infections, and I think it is irresponsible for a health care worker to promote the use of homeopathy in place of proven treatment for any life-threatening illness. New treatments, whether conventional or homeopathic, should not replace current therapy unless they have been shown to be at least as effective in carefully monitored clinical trials."
Dr David Misselbrook MSc MA FRCGP, Dean, Royal Society of Medicine: "I offer my personal support to the stand taken by Sense about Science and the Voice of Young Science in their letter to the WHO expressing their concern about the use of homeopathy to treat serious disease in the developing world. Homeopathy is valued by patients in wealthy countries as a complementary therapy that may help them to feel better during periods of illness. However there is no good quality scientific evidence that homeopathy is effective against serious diseases such as TB, malaria or AIDS. It seems quite wrong to encourage Western complementary therapies in the developing world when they stand in such acute need of the basics that we take for granted such as clean water, sanitation and access to proven medical treatments for serious disease."
Professor Tom Welton FRSC, Professor in Sustainable Chemistry, Head of the Department of Chemistry, Member of advisory panel for the Pan African Chemistry Network: "It is with shock that I read that homeopathy is being proposed as an alternative to scientifically proven treatments for life-threatening diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. Homeopathy proposes that diseases can be cured by tinctures that contain no active ingredient. There is, of course, no systematic evidence that shows that these work. To propose that a therapy for which there is no evidence for its efficacy as a substitute for treatments that have been shown to work is reckless and frankly wicked. If this is not prevented, lives will be lost. I remember the days before the introduction of antiviral therapies for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, when the only hope that my sick friends had to cling to was treatments such as homeopathy. They died in appalling numbers. The advent of effective anti-viral drugs has turned this situation around completely and I have not lost another friend since. It is imperative that these drugs are made available to all who can benefit from their use, not that they are replaced with so-called treatments that don't work."
Professor Nicholas White OBR FRS, Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford; Chair, Wellcome Trust SE Asian Units and of the WHO Antimalarial Treatment Guidelines Committee: "We still rely heavily on natural products for the treatment of malaria (Cinchona alkaloids, artemisinin derivatives), but we use quality assured products at doses shown conclusively to be effective. Malaria is a potentially lethal infection. Treating with inadequate doses or ineffective products diverts the patient from receiving effective medicines and may result in their death."
Dr Ron Behrens, Director, Hospital for Tropical Diseases: "I would strongly support this letter. There is an important role for anti-malarial compounds extracted from local plants for the treatment of malaria, which are being, and have been identified through careful research in a number of developing countries. However their clinical use should follow the same rigorous scientific evaluation and testing as all drugs for human."
Professor JM Ryan, Emeritus Professor of Conflict Recovery, St George's Hospital University of London: "Those who practice conventional medicine live in a world constrained by the need to consider best evidence when recommending therapies and this is absolutely the correct approach."
With thanks for additional research to Chiara Gattinoni and http://gimpyblog.wordpress.com/