When homeopaths go too far

Image from page 205 of "Natural history of birds, fish, insects, and reptiles" (1808)

Reining in the homeopaths

Homeopathy is mostly harmless in that it contains no harmful ingredients. It is the medical equivalent of 'doing nothing'. But sometimes doing nothing can be a reasonable thing to do (eg 'watchful waiting') but sometimes it's a very bad idea. By taking homeopathic "medicine" people may be under the false impression that they are doing something useful, when instead they need real medicine.

There are a number of examples where organisations, both medical and homeopathic, have had to issue a statement to rein in some of the stranger notion that homeopaths have taken off and run with. Here are some of them.


The World Health Organisation made it clear in July 2014 that homeopathy is of no use for treating Ebola.


The Society of Homeopaths reminds its members, in June 2014, to be careful about the claims made about homeopathy in any marketing material...



The British Homeopathic Association, theFaculty of Homeopaths and the Society of Homeopaths agreed, in April 2013, that people should get their children vaccinated. 

The BHA

"Vaccinations for infectious childhood diseases is currently a major news story.

There is no evidence to suggest that the measles outbreak in Swansea or the fall-off in MMR vaccinations in the Totnes area are as a result of people choosing to use complementary medicines instead of conventional immunisation. However, we would like to state that on the issue of immunisation the BHA has for many years taken an unequivocal position.

In line with the Department of Health’s advice, the BHA recommends that immunisation should be carried out in the normal way using the conventional tested and approved vaccines."
Vaccinations statement British Homeopathic Association (date not given)

The FoH

"Vaccinations for infectious childhood diseases is currently a major news story.

There is no evidence to suggest that the current measles outbreak in Swansea or the fall-off in MMR vaccinations in the Totnes area are as a result of people choosing to use complementary medicines instead of conventional immunisation. However, as a responsible registering body for statutorily regulated healthcare professionals we again want to make clear our unequivocal and long-standing position on this issue.

In line with the Department of Health’s advice, the Faculty of Homeopathy recommends that in the case of infectious childhood diseases immunisation should be carried out in the normal way using the conventional tested and approved vaccines."
Vaccinations statement Faculty of Homeopaths (date not given)  

The SoH

Philip Edmonds, chairman of the Society of Homeopaths said: "The Society does not endorse the use of homeopathic medicines as an alternative to vaccination for the prevention of serious infectious diseases and recommends that members of the public seek the advice of their GP, and/or relevant Department of Health guidelines, concerning vaccination and protection against disease."
Parents need to know homeopathy does not protect against measles, says MPThe Guardian 15 April 2013


Public Health England, in February 2011, issued a statement about malaria and homeopathic remedies clarifying that

"The Health Protection Agency Advisory Committee on Malaria Prevention does not recommend relying on any herbal or homeopathic remedies for the prevention of malaria."
Guidance: Malaria: Homeopathic Remedies Public Health England 1 February 2011   


Dr Peter Fisher, a homeopath, acknowledged in 2011 that homeopathy is of no use in preventing malaria and that fellow homeopaths do themselves no favour when pretending that it does

"So, yes I believe that eventually something, maybe descended from homeopathy, using the key techniques of homeopathy, will be accepted. I have to say I think the homeopathic community is in many ways its worst enemy, particularly in this country [UK]–we have people who make silly claims, frankly, who are not qualified and say things they really shouldn’t say, for instance, about preventing malaria.  That is potentially very dangerous and gets us a bad press."   An interview with Peter Fisher World of Homeopathy 4 July 2012

Update - useful as it is to have a senior homeopath acknowledge this @Blue_Wode has pointed me towards this nice quip (curated here on EBM-first, originally posted at Skeptico) from a skeptic, which makes a good point and references similar comments made by Dr Fisher in 2007.



The World Health Organisation made it clear in August 2009 that homeopathy is of no use for HIV, tuberculosis or malaria (or infant diarrhoea, or flu)

"People with conditions such as HIV, TB and malaria should not rely on homeopathic treatments, the World Health Organization has warned."
Homeopathy not a cure, says WHO BBC News 20 August 2009

"WHO also said that it does not recommend homoeopathy for treating diarrhoea in infants or flu. WHO experts, who have clearly criticised the use of treatments that have not been proved clinically and that are not evidence based, said that homoeopathy had “no place” in treatment of these five dangerous diseases."
WHO warns against using homoeopathy to treat serious diseases BMJ  24 August 2009


Dr Michael Dixon, Medical Director for the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health also lent his support to the WHO's statement on homeopathy, agreeing that

"There is no place for homeopathy in treating serious illness such as HIV, TB, malaria and infant diarrhoea in developing countries. The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health absolutely supports the recent statement by the World Health Organisation."
WHO warns against using homoeopathy to treat serious diseases (response) BMJ 11 September 2009



Summary
From this it's clear that both homeopathy organisations (in the UK at least) and medically qualified people agree that homeopathy is no substitute for vaccination, does not prevent or treat malaria and cannot treat HIV, TB, diarrhoea or flu.

I'm not aware of any homeopathic organisation which has acknowledged publicly that homeopathy is of no use in treating Ebola though. Which is a shame because, as @sciencebabe puts it bluntly, homeopathy contains #NoFuckingMedicine.


Apparently a team of homeopaths have taken themselves off to Liberia with a box of 'remedies'. It seems like they could cause problems in several ways:

  • giving people who may need actual medicine medicine that isn't actually medicine
  • generally getting in the way and making a nuisance of themselves
  • harming themselves by getting infected and increasing the workload of real doctors and support staff, coffinmakers etc.