The invasion of well-meaning quacks into West Africa continues apace


Here we go yet again.

I’ve been interested in the Ebola outbreak that’s been going on for months in west Africa for a number of reasons. First, it’s a bad disease, and this is the largest outbreak in history. over 5,000 people have died. Second, there’s been a lot of unreasonable fear mongering about the disease here in the US far beyond its actual threat level to the country. Third, of course, and perhaps most pertinent given the usual subject matter of this blog, is that the Ebola outbreak in Africa has been a godsend for quacks, cranks, and conspiracy theorists. There is no quackery or conspiracy theory too quacky or too nutty to be considered improbable by the likes of Mike Adams. (Well, maybe one.)

When last I visited this subject, I was following the saga of homeopaths bravely (stupidly, actually) plunging into the middle of the Ebola outbreak with their magic water, thinking that it would be useful. There are two issues with homeopathy for Ebola. (Well, three issues, one of them being that homeopathy is total quackery and no different than giving desperately ill patients water or little sugar pills.) One is the ridiculousness of one common homeopathic remedy, namely using the venoms of various snakes (rattlesnake, yellow viper, and Bushmaster) because they cause symptoms similar to Ebola, in particular bleeding. Given that homeopathic remedies are diluted to nonexistence, I’m not so worried about these. One, however, is very scary, perhaps because it’s most in tune with homeopathy, and that’s to use blood, saliva, or other bodily fluids from an actual Ebola victim as the remedy to be diluted to nonexistence. Given how easily containers could be contaminated with the Ebola virus and how it might stick to the vessels used to dilute the bodily fluids, the thought of a homeopath actually using the bodily fluids of Ebola victims this way is too scary to contemplate, so scary that even über-quack and über-crank Mike Adams couldn’t countenance such a suggestion.

And don’t even get me started on “auto-urine” therapy for Ebola.

So it was with a mixture of alarm and amusement that I learned that homeopaths are still at it. They’re still trying, but the World Health Organization (WHO), to its credit, has for now put a stop to them, an action that has enraged the homeopaths who “were just trying to help”:

Homeopathy could have cured Ebola if the World Health Organisation had not stepped in to prevent a trial, according to members of a group who travelled to Liberia hoping to try out remedies including rattlesnake venom and the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly.

The four doctors were the subject of widespread ridicule online after MailOnline revealed that they travelled to the West African country intent on using Ebola victims to put their controversial theories to the test.

But today the homeopaths dismissed their critics as ‘armchair intellectuals’ and insisted they made the ‘dramatic and traumatic trip’ to Liberia because they had a duty to try to help.

Organisers of the trip are still inviting donations from supporters of homeopathy – whose ranks include Prince Charles – to fund a second attempt to run an Ebola trial in Liberia.

Seriously? The WHO basically saved these homeopaths’ sorry posteriors from their own stupidity and belief in magic. They’ve also saved the suffering Ebola victims in Liberia from being subjected to homeopathic quackery. (But I repeat myself.) One thing that’s depressing that I learned in this story is that the homeopaths who think that treating Ebola patients with snake venom diluted to nonexistence while believing that the water somehow “remembers” the properties of the snake venom are…physicians.

I hang my head in shame. Fellow physicians, believing in magic water! Oh, the shame. The shame.

It gets worse:

From her office in Mumbai, India, Dr Medha Durge said they had been keen to try out their own medicines on Ebola victims alongside more conventional treatments.
‘Is it possible that four doctors with over 25 years practice will go all the way to Liberia and harm/exploit Ebola victims? We wanted to help and that too because nothing was helping them,’ she said.

‘Also we wanted to give homeopathy along with the drips.’

She confirmed that they had used homeopathic treatments on patients, despite the instructions from health officials in the capital Monrovia not to do so. She said she had not felt the need to quarantine herself after returning to India but was monitoring her own condition for any signs of the disease.

She also affirmed that “We treated all types of cases in the hospital with homeopathic medicines.”

In other words, these homeopaths lied when they assured health officials that they would not use homeopathy on Ebola patients. Why am I not surprised? So not only are these physicians falling prey to the most magical of magical thinking, as is absolutely required to believe in homeopathy, but they are apparently insubordinate and/or dishonest as well. It does explain how they were allowed near Ebola patients, though. Given the shortage of physicians in the areas most devastated by the outbreak, a physician interested in helping would be far more likely to be allowed in to help than a homeopath. Unfortunately Dr. Durge is both. In any case, if you don’t believe that these homeopaths are almost certainly lying, check this out about another homeopath, Dr. Ortrud Lindemann:

‘To say we offer false hope is ridiculous,’ she said. ‘We were four qualified doctors who answered a call for volunteers and put our own lives in danger to try and help. If there is something to be done on top of the conventional treatment to help a patient, then we have a duty to try.’

Back in Mumbai, Dr Durge claimed that the Liberian government had been ‘very helpful, kind and accepting of homeopathy. They appreciated us arriving there under the circumstances.’

However, senior health officials involved in the fight against Ebola in Liberia told MailOnline they had not realised the doctors were homeopaths and that when they found out, they gave strict instructions that they were not to use their techniques on patients.

Trusting homeopaths not to use their quackery on Ebola patients? Those senior health officials were either naive or desperate, probably a bit of both. One wonders if these physicians even remember how to use conventional medicine, given their reliance to treat woo. The only good thing about this is that they probably didn’t hurt anyone. That doesn’t make up for the fact that these deluded homeopaths were planning to do, in essence, human experimentation without informed consent or any supervision:

He revealed that they had consulted other leading homeopaths in the hope of coming up with a potential cure that could be tested on Ebola patients.

‘I’ve used homeopathy for 40 years and there’s a lot of research various epidemics including Yellow Fever, which is similar to Ebola in symptoms,’ he said.

‘When we went to do this we had some of the very best international homeopathy physicians who we consulted and worked with for many months before hand.

‘And again we looked at which remedies would fit the pattern to cure, we had some good ideas about what medicine works and what would be beneficial. Again, we needed the experience so that was our preparation.’

He confirmed that rattlesnake venom and Spanish Fly were among the possible cures that they wanted to test out.

And he said he was disappointed that conventional medicine had closed its mind to homeopathy.

No, I’m disappointed that there are actual physicians, who presumably graduated from real medical schools and undertook real residencies, who believe that you treat symptoms by administering something that causes those symptoms and that you make that remedy stronger by serially diluting it until it is highly unlikely that a single molecule remains behind because the water remembers the “healing essence” of the remedy.

Sadly, it doesn’t end there. If the quacks themselves can’t treat Ebola patients themselves with their quackery, they’ll teach doctors there how to treat Ebola with quackery. Witness Robert Rowan:

The President of SL, probably on arrival, will receive us. We will be taken to a non-patient center where we can begin teaching our methods and special Ebola protocols. The doctors we train will soon thereafter begin treatments in the SL treatment center.

We do not intend to treat any Ebola patients ourselves. The risk is not necessary. We will oversee the training and treatment by our trainees. We will be teaching them everything Dr. Robins knows about the Robins Method of DIV Ozone Therapy gained over the past 23 years. I will teach them everything else about ozone and other oxidation therapies, and every other method of delivery, from rectal to joints. We will prepare them to receive ultraviolet blood irradiation therapy if that equipment follows us. We will also be directly treating malaria patients. I will be carrying a ton of gloves with me.

Imagine my relief.

Those poor Ebola patients. Not only do they have to deal with the possibility of catching an infectious disease that kills over half the people who get it in a very unpleasant manner, the poverty, the decimation of their medical resources through the deaths of many doctors treating Ebola patients, but they also have to deal with an invasion of well-meaning quacks trying to use homeopathy, UV blood irradiation, ozone therapy, auto-urine therapy, and all manner of other quackery to treat them.