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Homeopathy is not a cure for infections

For nearly a decade, the WHO has been working on a report on homeopathy. So far, it only exists in draft form.

For nearly a decade, the WHO has been working on a report on homeopathy. So far, it only exists in draft form.

When it was circulated and leaked to the Lancet, it became obvious that the report, which was conceived by an international team of proponents of homeopathy, was advocating homeopathy for a range of important infections, including childhood diarrhoea. Most experts who saw this agreed that, if such a recommendation were implemented, it would costs thousands of lives.

Due to several protests, the revision of the report has been making extremely slow progress and is still not available in its final form. In June 2009, the Voice of Young Science Network took pre-emptive action and wrote to the WHO stating that 'homeopathy does not protect people from, or treat, these diseases' (see also my blog in June). A spokesman from the WHO recently replied: 'We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit.'

This could well have been the end of the story (and of the WHO report on homeopathy). But, as it turns out, it probably is not. Only days later, the UK Society of Homeopaths' issued a press statement declaring that the 'WHO have failed to acknowledge the evidence base for the use of homeopathy in the treatment of childhood diarrhoea in which, using randomised, double-blinded trials, the results were significant versus placebo'.

To support this bold statement, the Society quoted two studies by Jennifer Jacobs (an ardent homeopathy) which did, in fact, show statistically significant effects (1), (2). What the Society of Homeopaths, however, fail to mention is that Dr. Jacobs' final, larger study failed to show a significant effect (3). Moreover, the three trials pooled together demonstrated effects which were so small (duration of diarrhoea reduced by 0.7 days, number of stools reduced by 0.7 per day) that arguably they are clinically irrelevant (4).

Moreover, one cannot fail to realize that independent confirmations of these data are so far not available. All the three existing studies are by Dr Jacobs! Again, the Society does not mention this. I do therefore wonder: who 'failed to acknowledge' what...

Professor Edzard Ernst Professor Edzard Ernst

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