The World Health Organization disses homeopathy

If there’s one form of pseudoscientific health care (if you can call it that) that rests on the most risibly implausible tenets, I’d have to say that it’s homeopathy. Either that, or homeopathy and various “energy medicine” modalities would have to fight it out in a no woo barred cage match to the death for the title of most scientifically ridiculous medical “therapy.” Unfortunately, because of its history, where in the 1800s it was often actually as good or better than the “scientific” medicine of the time (mainly because homeopathy is nothing more than water–in essence doing nothing–and doing nothing was all too frequently better than the medicine of the time, which was all too often toxic or otherwise harmful), homeopathy retains far more respect than it deserves, even today. Fortunately, thanks to the skeptical movement, more people are becoming aware of just how ridiculous homeopathy is and just how magical the thinking is behind it. Unfortunately, the forces of “conventional” or “scientific” medicine have tended to be reluctant to tell it like it is.

At least the World Health Organization has bucked the trend:

People with conditions such as HIV, TB and malaria should not rely on homeopathic treatments, the World Health Organization has warned.

It was responding to calls from young researchers who fear the promotion of homeopathy in the developing world could put people’s lives at risk.

The group Voice of Young Science Network has written to health ministers to set out the WHO view.

Indeed, homeopathy shouldn’t be used for anything, but it especially shouldn’t be used for non-self-limited conditions of any kind and even more so for life-threatening conditions.

The letter lays it on the line:

1st June 2009: In a letter to the World Health Organisation today, early career medics and researchers are calling for the body to issue a clear international communication about the inappropriate use of homeopathy for five serious diseases. They say they are frustrated with the continued promotion of homeopathy as a preventative or treatment for HIV, TB, malaria, influenza and infant diarrhoea. The Voice of Young Science network has joined with other early career medics and researchers working in developing countries to send the letter, in advance of a ‘Homeopathy for Developing Countries’ conference in the Netherlands on 6th June.

The letter:

  • Explains that medics working with the most rural and impoverished people of the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is needed. The promotion of homeopathy for serious diseases puts lives at risk.
  • Lists some of the examples of recent and planned developments of homeopathic clinics offering treatment for these five conditions.
  • Asks the WHO to make clear that homeopathy cannot prevent or treat these five conditions.

The response of the WHO:

Dr Mario Raviglione, Director, Stop TB Department, WHO: “Our evidence-based WHO TB treatment/management guidelines, as well as the International Standards of Tuberculosis Care (ISTC) do not recommend use of homeopathy.”

Dr Mukund Uplekar, TB Strategy and Health Systems, WHO: “WHO’s evidence-based guidelines on treatment of tuberculosis…have no place for homeopathic medicines.” Dr Teguest Guerma, Director Ad Interim, HIV/AIDS Department, WHO: “The WHO Dept. of HIV/AIDS invests considerable human and financial resources […] to ensure access to evidence-based medical information and to clinically proven, efficacious, and safe treatment for HIV… Let me end by congratulating the young clinicians and researchers of Sense About Science for their efforts to ensure evidence-based approaches to treating and caring for people living with HIV.”

Dr Sergio Spinaci, Associate Director, Global Malaria Programme, WHO: “Thanks for the amazing documentation and for whistle blowing on this issue… The Global Malaria programme recommends that malaria is treated following the WHO Guidelines for the Treatment of Malaria.”

Joe Martines, on behalf of Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director, Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development, WHO: “We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit to the treatment of diarrhoea in children…Homeopathy does not focus on the treatment and prevention of dehydration – in total contradiction with the scientific basis and our recommendations for the management of diarrhoea.”

In particular, I’ve written about unethical trials of homeopathy that failed to demonstrate that it has any use whatsoever in infectious diarrhea and homeopaths like Jerry Sherr trying to ply their trade among HIV/AIDS patients in Africa.

All I can say is that it’s about time that an organization like the WHO issued such a strong denunciation of the quackery known as homeopathy. Not surprisingly, the Society of Homeopaths (remember them?) was not pleased and trotted out the usual nonsense about the “evidence” for homeopathy:

However Paula Ross, chief executive of the Society of Homeopaths, said it was right to raise concerns about promotion of homeopathy as a cure for TB, malaria or HIV and Aids.

But she added: “This is just another poorly wrapped attempt to discredit homeopathy by Sense About Science.

“The irony is that in their efforts to promote evidence in medicine, they have failed to do their own homework.

“There is a strong and growing evidence base for homeopathy and most notably, this also includes childhood diarrhoea.”

The UK’s Faculty of Homeopathy added that there was also evidence homeopathy could help people with seasonal flu.

Actually, no there isn’t. Once again the Society of Homeopaths fails.

Now if only the U.K. would stop funding hospitals of homeopathy and other major medical groups would make statements just as unequivocal. After all, if they can’t issue such statements regarding a modality as implausible as homeopathy, they forfeit their right to proclaim themselves science-based, as far as I’m concerned.